HUNTERSVILLE – The attributes that make a good passer also make a good long snapper – form, speed, accuracy and consistency.
“I just do it upside down,” Chris Lutzel said, laughing.
Lutzel, a junior on SouthLake Christian’s football team, plays center and adroitly handles the long-snapping duties. He’s the bent-over guy who begins every offensive play by either snapping the football to a quarterback in shotgun formation or holder for place kicks (about seven yards away), or to the punter (about 12 yards).
Every area team has a long snapper, but none as accomplished as Lutzel.
He is No. 1 nationally among rising juniors in the ESPN/Under Armour rankings of long snappers. Lutzel’s lofty listing came after his standout performance at the Kohl’s-Under Armour National Invitational in Wisconsin on July 20-21. More than 500 long snappers, punters and kickers competed in a scoring system based on snap speed, accuracy and consistency.
A long snapper isn’t a thankless job, but it’s close. Much like a concert pianist, an umpire or a surgeon, a long snapper’s mistakes are glaring: The football sailing over a punter or quarterback’s head or bouncing toward a holder.
“Honestly, no one’s a natural long snapper, because it’s such a strange motion,” Lutzel said. “It doesn’t come easy. It wasn’t too bad to learn, and it didn’t come naturally. It took a few years to develop.”
Lutzel, 6-feet and 215 pounds, has been a center since he began playing football in third grade. He took on long-snapping a couple years later and got hooked when he went to a summer camp before his eighth-grade season.
Now, college recruiters know him. He’s received attention from Alabama, Auburn, N.C. State, Oregon, Princeton and others.
“They don’t care how big he is or how fast he runs,” SouthLake Christian coach Bub O’Donnell said.
The recruiters care about his snapping ability. Where the ball lands in the punter’s hands. How long it takes to get there.
Lutzel works diligently at his craft. He snaps to his father, Rick, sometimes. When Lutzel’s practicing alone, he sets up a PVC pipe that’s about six feet tall, walks off the necessary distance, bends over and aims at the targets on the pipe.
“Chris is a tireless worker,” O’Donnell said. “Success is not an accident. The shotgun snap is the most important part of the play. It doesn't just need to be there at the right spot for quarterback to grab, it also has to be on time so the whole play runs smoothly. Chris has great reaction time once the quarterback signals the snap. And his accuracy is incredible.”
Lutzel isn’t just snapping for speed and distance. A perfect snap to the punter is hip-high. Snaps to quarterbacks vary by preference. Some like it chest-high. Others prefer the waist.
Lutzel likes the importance of snapping and doesn’t mind the anonymity.
“It’s critical, but it’s a non-glory position,” he said. “You just get in, do your job and get out. I like that.”