As college football becomes more specialized, the specialists are getting a closer look. So it was for Mark Sunga, who signed a letter of intent to Oregon in February after being offered a scholarship as a long snapper.
It is rare to see a player who is primarily projected as a long snapper offered a scholarship, but the Ducks saw enough in Sunga, who also played linebacker at Notre Dame High School (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) to do just that.
This may never become a trend, but long snappers are certainly receiving close looks as walk-ons at many schools. Wisconsin, for instance, asked Steven Johnson to walk-on two years ago, recognizing that someone would need to take over for Matt Katula, who recently signed an NFL contract with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent. Johnson will likely be the Badgers' No. 1 long snapper in the fall.
Brian Heath will be a two-year starter on the offensive line at Del Oro High School in Loomis, Calif., this fall. But the position where he will most likely make an impact at the college level is as a long snapper.
"He's a really good long snapper and we think that is going to be his forte in college football," said Wilbur Heath, Brian's father, in a recent telephone interview.
Wilbur Heath was at a coaching clinic recently when he met Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti. Sunga's times on his snaps, Bellotti told him, were in the .78 to .79-second range. And Oregon liked Sunga enough to offer him a scholarship even though Bellotti intimated that he prefers long snappers to be a little bigger than Sunga's 6-foot-1, 230 pounds.
Brian Heath, according to his father, stands 6-foot-4, weighs 240 pounds and consistently snaps in the .75 to .78 range. "I think last year he got a couple of .72s and .73s off," Wilbur said.
"And Bellotti says he likes them about 6-4 to 6-5 and in the 240-250 range and he wants them below .8," Wilbur said. "So I told him about Brian and he says Brian shouldn't have any problem at all. It is just a matter of who needs what when the time comes."
Sunga was the No. 2 ranked long snapper in the class of 2005 according to special teams guru Chris Sailer. Brian Heath is currently unranked, having never performed at one of Sailer's competitions. He hopes to jump into the mix when he participates in the long snapping portion of Sailer's National Kicking Combine May 14-15.
"I know that some schools have called his coach because in filling out the questionnaires he always puts down special teams long snapper and they ask about it," Wilbur said. "I think some of the coaches have alluded to the fact that they will be in Las Vegas on those dates."
According to his father, Brian Heath's favorites are Boise State and California and he also reportedly has interest in Fresno State, Oregon and Wisconsin. He is receiving the most interest from Boise State, Washington State, Montana State and Nebraska. But how schools view him will be strongly affected by how well he performs at the Sailer camp.
Heath began long snapping as a freshman and he handled those duties for Del Oro's varsity last year. And this offseason Heath has been honing his long snapping skills, working with his team's punter at the school.
"His time is below eight and he's got good accuracy," Wilbur said. "We never had a punt blocked last year… He had one high snap I think and that's it."
Heath, who gave up baseball and track to concentrate on football, started at weakside offensive tackle last season, earning honorable mention all-conference honors. He is moving to guard this year. The second strongest player on a team with several Division I prospects (including linebacker Ben Chandler, defensive tackle Bill Sherman and offensive lineman Zachary Hughey) Heath squats 480 pounds and bench presses 300.
"He's really been concentrating on football," Wilbur said. "He's pretty much devoted his entire self to football."