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Long snappers: Looking at football upside down

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 31, 2013 at 2:41 am •  Published: January 31, 2013
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By high school, Cox realized that snapping might be his path to playing at a major college. He went to special teams camp organized by Tennessee, impressed the coaches with his skills and wound up being recruited by the Volunteers. But they weren't about to give a scholarship to someone just for snapping, so he had to walk on. He was the No. 1 long snapper for three years, but didn't receive a scholarship until his senior season.

No hard feelings.

It helped him get to the biggest game of his life.

"I can't say enough how blessed I feel to be here, to be somebody that gets to contribute to a potential Super Bowl win," Cox said.

His 49ers counterpart has already started giving back to the next generation of snappers with a program known as "Jennings 1-4-1," which runs camps and develops training aids for kids who are trying to follow in his footsteps.

The name is a play on the philosophy he urges every snapper to take — focus on the next one, nothing more.

"Every rep, you're trying to be one-for-one," Jennings said. "I can do anything once. Now, I don't know if I have 10,000 snaps left in my career, or 1,000 or 500 or 50. But I don't know if I could do 100 in a row. That seems like a lot. That seems daunting. But the next one? I can nail the next one."

For Jennings, the most important part of snapping is the grip. He uses what he calls the "Nerf Turbo" — essentially, the same style he used to make one of those foam footballs do a spiral. It allows him to get impressive speed on his snaps, giving the punter or kicker an extra split-second to beat the rush.

Cox doesn't snap the ball nearly as hard as Jennings. The Ravens specialist focuses on consistency and accuracy, taking a meticulous approach to make sure he hikes the ball the same way every time.

On field goals and extra points, he always puts his heels on the same part of the hash mark. Then, he attempts to rotate the ball the same number of times so the holder — punter Sam Koch — can place it down in one motion with the laces facing away. If Koch has to spin the ball before placing it on the turf, it can throw off the timing just a bit.

As for those who don't look at snappers as real players, consider this: In Cox rookie's season, he tore up a knee but still finished the game, snapping the ball six more times in excruciating pain.

"As funny as it sounds, that was a really great experience for me," Cox said. "To come out of it having all the support from my teammates, to hear them say, 'Wow, that was awesome what you did.'"

Yep, these guys are real players.

And real important, too.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963