EWU's Potter goes from long shot to long snapper

December 14, 2012 

Jake Potter has experienced a lot of great times while playing football at Eastern Washington University.

There was the time in January of 2010, when the Eagles won the Football Championship Subdivision championship over Delaware. Or the current ride now, in which Eastern is playing host to Sam Houston State at 1:05 p.m. today in an FCS semifinal game.

But maybe nothing can beat the day two years ago when head coach Beau Baldwin called Potter into his office.

“I went my first three years of playing football without a scholarship,” said Potter, a 2008 Kamiakin High School graduate. “I had been getting kind of down. I’d been playing for two years, and I felt I deserved (a scholarship). I was doing my job, and I had done everything they asked me to do.”

And on that day, Baldwin told Potter he was going to be put on scholarship.

“I didn’t want that financial strain for my parents,” Potter said. “It was definitely a great day.”

For an athlete — who was playing consistently for the previous two seasons — to be put on scholarship may not be unusual news.

But Potter is different. He’s a long snapper, the guy who hikes the ball back to the punter or the place holder for the kicker.

A long snapper does not usually get a lot of credit from fans, especially when they perform their job without problems.

But everyone will remember a bad snap.

Potter is one of the best at what he does.

“I’ve worked hard to get where I am,” he said. “It all started back in high school. I was the long snapper there.” But the Eastern senior was more known as an All-Big Nine Conference tight end both his junior and senior seasons at Kamiakin.

“When I graduated from high school, I didn’t know I was going to play college ball,” he said. “But at the time (Kamiakin grad) Jason Woods, a coach at Southridge, I ran into him during the summer. He knew the coaches up here (in Cheney).”

Woods put in a word for Potter, who would find himself walking on in late summer at Eastern.

Potter mentioned to the coaches that he long-snapped in high school — even sent them some film of him doing it — but they were looking at him as a tight end.

“They had a senior who could already long snap,” he said.

So Potter, after redshirting his freshman season, went through the next year without doing it.

Until one day in practice, Potter grabbed a football and snapped it. That froze everybody in their tracks.

“Maybe they forgot that I told them about it,” he said. “But when the coaches saw that, they went ‘Whoa!’ ” he said.

He was the team’s long snapper the following spring and has been the guy for three seasons now.

Long-snapping a football doesn’t come easy for the majority of football players.

“Some of the guys at practice here always try to step up and do it,” Potter said. “It’s definitely not as easy as people think. It’s a lot like a golf swing. Once you get it down, you can’t sway. It becomes a complete movement.”

And it has to be fast.

“Our coaches have our whole punt operation down to around 2 seconds, from the time I snap the ball to when the punter kicks it,” Potter said.

Any longer than that, and you’re looking at a blocked punt.

Potter must have the ball in the punter’s hands no later than .8 of a second. The punter is usually standing 15 yards back.

Potter says his average is between .6 and .7 of a second. That’s the result of plenty of repetitions.

“In practice, I probably snap on punts 60 to 70 times,” he said. “In field goals, I don’t really count those because the snap isn’t as long.

“I have my little routine that I go through,” he continued. “I don’t change at all. One thing on the field-goal team is I don’t like standing over the ball, so I turn and look at the kicker until he’s ready.”

On field-goal snaps, he knows he’s going to get clobbered as soon as he snaps it. On punts, opposing teams scheme to make sure he doesn’t get downfield to make the tackle.

At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Potter is also aware that NFL teams are always in need of a good long-snapper.

“I don’t know how much of a possibility that is,” he said. “But if I had a chance, I’d like to take the opportunity.”

If that doesn’t happen, he plans to come back to school next fall — his playing eligibility expired — to finish getting his degree in electrical engineering.

Meanwhile, he’ll be long-snapping today as the Eagles hope to make it back to the championship game.

And the journey for him the past five years has been great.

“We have a way this season of winning close games,” he said. “Some fans have been complaining about us giving them a heart attack. But this thing is awesome. It’s always exciting. The experiences we go through are so great. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

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