It’s the most underappreciated position in football. Perfection goes unnoticed, but imperfection gets put in the spotlight.
That’s right, I’m talking about long snapping, and for the past two plus seasons, UConn has had Brian Keating holding down the fort.
“Everyone just assumes the ball gets back there to the punter,” Keating said. “But any bad snap could throw the operation off.”
Keating first started long snapping in his freshman year at Darien High, while he was a member of the freshman football team. His dad had some experience from when he played, and he taught what he knew to Brian.
“He taught me the fundamentals of it out in the back yard, just snapping it, and I kind of just did it for fun knowing our team needed one,” Keating said. “My sophomore year I really discovered that wow, I could take this to the next level.”
Keating immediately went to camps to learn how to become a better long snapper, camps where you would not only learn the basics of the position but also be pitted against other snappers and specialists in competitions, creating what he described as a high-pressure environment.
Fast forward five years and Keating is a junior in college who has been the starting long snapper for the UConn football team for over two years and on a scholarship. Used as the primary long snapper in 11 games his freshman year and all 12 games his sophomore year, Keating has turned into one of the longest-tenured starters on this UConn team.
In 2018, Keating’s snaps helped punter Luke Magliozzi set a school record for the longest average punt distance in a season–42.94 yards.
“A punt is less mental, but it’s more physical because you need to line yourself up right and there’s more body movements that go into a good snap,” Keating said. “You need to make sure you’re lined-up right, you need to snap the ball fast and accurate with a tight spiral. While as with a field goal, you’re a little bit wider and you don’t use your lower body as much, so it’s not as fast as a punt snap, but it’s more mental because anything that’s off with the snap can take the operation off, and that will be a missed field goal.”
Keating stressed that having a strong mindset is one of the most important things for a long snapper. When he hits the field, he knows exactly what he has to do–not think about it.
“Honestly, when I go out there, I’m not thinking about anything,” Keating said. “If anything, I’m thinking about something that has nothing to do with football, because the one second and the one time you think about long snapping is when you’re going to get a bad result.”
To the casual fan, one thing you might not expect a long snapper to do is making tackles, but Keating excels in that as well. On punts, almost as quick as the ball goes from the line of scrimmage to Magliozzi, Keating is off and sprinting down the field to tackles the opposing return man.
“I played linebacker my whole life, so I love going down to hit people,” Keating said. “Honestly my favorite part of being a long snapper is when I’m untouched running down the field. It’s so cool because I wasn’t really in that situation growing up, I just would be around people and make an easy tackle, but it’s really cool making those one-on-one tackles and going up against these awesome returners around the country and in the conference. It feels great and I’ve been lucky enough to get four so far this season which is a career-high in a season, so it feels really awesome to go down the field and be one of the first guys down there.”
Those four tackles are actually tied for No. 17 on the team, impressive for someone getting the opportunity to make them solely on punts. With three-quarters of the season left to go, Keating has the chance to get many more.
When you think of the most crucial part of a football team, most people think offense and defense, but special teams rarely are part of the conversation. But oftentimes, it’s the special teams that either wins, or in worst-case scenarios, loses games.
“I like to say, with special teams and specialists around the country, it’s like a fraternity,” Keating said. “They’re always the first guys we go shake hands with after the game. You never really root against the specialists from another team, because we all have the same goal. We’re all not as respected as we really should be on a team, so we just go out there and we try and get our jobs done as much as possible.”
One bad snap can turn three points into none, a win into a loss and a national championship into a what-if. Luckily for UConn, they have consistency with Keating.
Jorge Eckardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at Jorge.firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @jorge_eckardt31