Long Snapper Tad Keely Too Good To Ignore

The most unsung player on a football team is the long snapper. He receives no recognition for his successes but plenty of blame for his misses. And yet his role is vital to his team. Tad Keely is completing his second year starting for the Fighting Illini. He has been practically perfect since getting his first action in the Rose Bowl.

Tad Keely walked on at Illinois to be a long snapper, following his brother Tyler. He was the backup to Kyle Knezetic his redshirt freshman season but never saw game action. That is, until the Rose Bowl.

"That was the first time I ever saw the field," Keely remembers. "Kyle got dinged up the first play. He did field goals, and I did all the punts. I really didn't have time to think about it. I was just thrown in the fire. I'd rather have it like that than to think about it the whole night before."

There can be no better confidence boost than playing well in the Rose Bowl.

"Oh yeah. Coach Zook always kind of refocused that on me too. He said if you can do it there, you can do it on any stage. That confidence was a big thing last year, my first year starting."

The Oswego product was well prepared for the assignment thanks to an assist from Tyler.

"He never played, but he showed me the ropes. He was here for a year when I was here. I was always ahead of him, but he showed me the ropes and mentored me. That was good."

What's it like seeing the world upside down?

"It's fun. It's different. You don't want to look too long or you get tunnel vision. When it's a field goal or PAT, I'm just focusing on the holder. And when it's a punt, all I see is Anthony (Santella).

"I just try to block everything out. The toughest was probably USC, but all I can see is Anthony's numbers. That's about it."

Keely has yet to cause a fumbled snap, but he admits he is less from perfect.

"Definitely. Last year, holder Jared Bosch did a great job. I remember in the Louisiana Lafayette game, the ball was low and he picked it up. As long as I'm not mentioned in the paper for a bad snap, it's a good thing. Anthony's back there, and he has great hands. As long as I get it back there, he's gonna get it down and get the job done."

Illinois coach Ron Zook said Keely's fourth quarter snap against Michigan forced Santella to move to the right one yard, and that caused a blocked punt. That is the only time this year Keely has been mentioned as causing a problem. Fortunately, the Illini won the game.

Strong winds affect punters and kickers. But the winds can play havoc with long snappers as well.

"I think a crosswind is the biggest thing. When you've got the wind with you, the ball's gonna get back a lot quicker. When you're snapping into the wind, you've got to cut through it a little bit. You switch your hands up a little bit, trying to get a little more velocity.

"Patrick Mann, the long snapper for the Bears, the first thing he ever told me was, 'Don't think about the wind.' He said the only time the wind had an effect on him was a couple years ago in San Francisco.

"I don't think there's ever a non windy day in Champaign. It's always windy."

Keely must also race downfield to cover punts and prevent runbacks. That has taken him awhile to master.

"Last year I was a little rusty. I played quarterback in high school, so I wasn't much on tackling. We started doing sprint tackle drills with the db's, and this year I'm the first one down there with the new sprint cover."

Keely has one more year of eligibility. He hopes to add his name to the long list of former Illinois products who have had successful careers in the National Football League.

"That's always a goal when you're young. Of course, I wanted to be a quarterback growing up. If I get that shot, I'd love that shot.

"Right now, I'm about 6'-2", 220. I want to get up to about 230-235. I still have a couple years to do that. As long as my snaps are getting back there quick, and there are no problems with my blocking."

That is a major responsibility and a thankless task. But the personable Keely is enjoying himself and performing his role to near perfection.

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