Zak Pedersen Anonymous But Important

One should never underestimate the importance of a quality long snapper for a college football team. Even though few snappers are offered scholarships out of high school, a kicking game can go nowhere without a consistent snap. The Fighting Illini are fortunate to have an experienced long snapper in Zach Pedersen.

Illinois long snapper Zach Pedersen was a mainstay last year, and he is even better this season. He is pleased with how things are going.

"Things are going well. Second year starting. It's a real exciting time, a lot of excitement going on with our group."

Pedersen remains anonymous because of his consistency. There have been two blocked punts and one flubbed field goal attempt, but none were the fault of the long snapper. Pedersen is a student of his trade and constantly looks for ways to get better.

"Every day is a good day for improvement. Last year, I wasn't sure what exactly was expected of me, first year starting. But this year, I'm trying to go over and beyond expectations. I'm trying to be as accurate as possible. I'm really strict about that; I'm watching a lot of film."

One might wonder how film study can help, but the skill is complex. There are more variables than meet the eye.

"You watch little things, like where your hands go. Simple things like your feet placement, hand placement on the ball and what happens. All that factors into the snap. Every little thing counts."

The quicker the snap, the less likelihood of a block. Pedersen says there are ways of increasing velocity.

"That comes from your leg drive. Sometimes when we've been working a lot during the day, you can get lazy on that. But you have to stay on your toes and remember to drive your legs back.

"With our protection scheme, we come back and block. So Coach (Ron) Zook really emphasizes that, snappers especially, drive straight back. And then that will help our velocity too."

The junior believes his snap times have improved.

"I think so. On PATs (point after touchdown), it's more of a finesse thing. You're trying to put it on the guy and not blow it by him like you would on a punt. The older I get, the stronger I get, the more fluid I get in my motion, that all translates into better velocity and accuracy."

Accuracy is as important on punts as it is placekicks.

"The punters are picky. That's just expected of you, especially if you want to make a push to the next level. You've got to be right there."

Pedersen and Tim Russell have worked closely together. Russell not only holds on placekicks, he is also the backup long snapper and possible successor to Pedersen after next season.

"We kid around and say Tim Russell's a Renaissance man. He's a jack of all trades. He came in as a quarterback. He's a receiver, holder and long snapper now. On anything he's done, he's progressively gotten better. So we're proud of him.

"This summer, we were out there two or three times a week doing workouts, snapping balls back and forth. It's good experience."

Freshman punter Justin DuVernois has been typically inconsistent this year. But Pedersen is convinced the young Floridian has a bright future.

"Justin's coming along real well. He's a true freshman, so you never really know how he's gonna turn out. He's handling everything real well. Coach Zook's been putting some pressure on him, and he's been handling that real well. He's been kicking the heck out of the ball, so it's a good sign."

The Illini have earned a bowl bid. Pedersen isn't surprised since he saw it coming long before the season began.

"I'm loving it. I don't know if it was because I was younger previous years, but this year I feel like everyone is really, really close. This whole idea that we're gonna be very good this year, everyone's pretty sold on that. That's what we have to have. We're very determined and focused."

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