COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The days of Hall of Famer Ray Guy teaching himself to punt or 12-year NFL veteran Steve DeOssie learning how to snap on the fly have seemingly gone the way of the leather helmet. These days, many special teams aces are reared in their craft from the youth leagues, while consulting with various trainers and coaches who help them perfect their technique.
But not Christian Carpenter, Maryland’s throwback long snapper who is slotted to be the starter this season. The sophomore from Brentwood, Tenn., who walked on at UMD, following his friend Nate Renfro to College Park, said he’s never once sought professional snapping advice or attended a specialists' camp in his life.
“It’s kind of like Bubba Watson in golf, a self-taught guy,” Carpenter said. “I pretty much just know how I snap and I fix myself. I watch my own film, I work on my own technique. I’ve never actually went to anyone for help.”
Carpenter might not be conventional in that sense, but he does conform in how he became a snapper. You’d be hard pressed to find any long snapper, at any level, who envisioned himself leaning over and thrusting a pigskin 12 yards between his legs, and the Brentwood native is no different. He began his career as an offensive lineman and was slotted to be a center at Brentwood Academy, but apparently he had a teammate who “was much, much better than me [at center],” Carpenter said.
“So the coaches said, ‘Christian, move up 10 yards, put your hand on the ball and let’s see what you can do [snapping],’” Carpenter explained. “So I said, ‘Alight,’ and I snapped it back. It wasn’t straight, it wasn’t great, but [the coaches] were like, ‘Congrats, you’re our new long snapper.’ And ever since I’ve just been working on it by myself.”
He did well enough at Brentwood to earn a preferred walk-on spot at Maryland two years ago. But after a redshirt season where he intently watched incumbent starter Greg Parcher, Carpenter suffered a tough break when he tore his ACL during spring ball. The injury knocked him out for five months and three weeks before he returned for the 2013 campaign’s final three games.
Carpenter actually ended up starting those latter three contests against Boston College, NC State and Marshall, because Parcher had an injury of his own during the Virginia Tech bout.
“I had only been practicing for a week coming back from the ACL, so I wasn’t at my full potential. I feel like I could’ve snapped better [the last three games], and I want to show people I can snap better, because I feel like I’m much improved,” Carpenter said. “So camp is going really well for me this year. Last year during camp I had the injury, and it was really tough not being able to be out here and practicing every day with the team. So being able to practice is nice.”
The Tennessee product has made significant strides these last few months. He said he’s improved his snap time by more than 0.2 seconds, and now he’s consistently getting the ball back to Nate Renfro, kicker Brad Craddock and Co. in 0.8 and 0.9 seconds (0.8 is considered an ideal time).
“I’ve gotten much better with my velocity, and also the control of my snap too,” Carpenter said. “But I’m working on my blocking. Some of the bigger guys I’ll be going against now in the Big Ten, I have to get better with that. That’s the next big hurdle. The guys are a little bigger and faster in the Big Ten from what I’ve seen. In the ACC they’re a little slower, a little smaller. … But I feel like, with how I’ve gotten better, I’ll be fine.”
Of course, Carpenter doesn’t have the starting gig nailed down quite yet. The Terps did bring in highly-touted snapper Nate Adams, who is on scholarship, and the true freshman has earned his share of praise as well.
“Nate Adams does a lot well,” special teams coach Andre Powell said. “But Christian Carpenter isn’t backing down. Christian is competing hard, and he’s had a good camp and made a lot of progress. He does some really good things, brings intangibles to the table, and he’s not backing down.”
The two long snappers may be in a dead heat, but it hasn’t affected their relationship in the slightest. Carpenter said the two are good friends and actually are rooming together during camp.
“He’s a great guy. We’re working with each other, pushing each other. It makes it more fun to have someone around who cares about long snapping as much as I do,” Carpenter said.
Regardless of who wins the job, Carpenter said his main focus is helping his fellow specialists excel. As a snapper, he’s well aware the only time his name will crop up is if he screws up, so Carpenter takes pride in making Renfro’s and Craddock’s lives easier. He said his goal is to make each the best punter and kicker in the nation.
“Both [Renfro and Craddock] are some of the hardest workers I know. I went to high school with Nate and he was one of the hardest worker I knew then. And Brad, all in all, this camp he’s been phenomenal,” Carpenter said. “All of us [specialists] are the kind of guys where we keep our head down, work hard and just try to get the job done. So I’m going to do my best to help them do their jobs.”
If Carpenter seizes that opportunity following fall camp, he already knows the first person he’ll thank: three-year starter Greg Parcher, one of the most consistent UMD snappers in recent memory. Carpenter is hoping to carve out a similar career during his tenure at Maryland.
“I learned a lot about work ethic from Greg. The difference between high school and college is great, and he taught me how to work, saying, ‘Hey, you need to be out here constantly, working,’” Carpenter said. “And I remember going over to him after the NC State game last year saying, ‘Thank you for what you’ve done for me.’ I’ll always think of him as a big brother with all he taught me about snapping."
Carpenter may be self-made, but it’s not like he’s averse to sound advice. We’ll soon find out how valuable it was, and how much Carpenter learned.
Carpenter: Self-Made, Seizing An Opportunity
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