Snappers In The Limelight

Nov. 12, 2002

Joe Boskovich and Matt Hayward hope that you never hear their names mentioned.

That's because, if you do, it most likely will be because they have just messed up.

You see, Boskovich and Hayward are both snappers for the USC football team. Boskovich, a 6-4, 240-pound junior, is the snapper for field goals and extra points. Hayward, a 6-1, 215-pound junior, snaps for punts.

They've spent the last couple years toiling in obscurity, perfecting their craft and honing their skills. They only get called on once in a while, but they are always ready to go--even if no one takes the time to recognize them.

'We have really important jobs,' said Hayward, who is in his second season at USC after transferring in from Glendale (Ariz.) College. 'Personally, I just try to go out there and get it done.'

'People don't realize how important snapping is,' added Boskovich, who is in his third season snapping for the Trojans. 'Look at some of the teams that have played against us and made snapping mistakes. You can look back and really see the impact that had on games.'

At Mountain Ridge (Ariz.) High, Hayward started out as a guard and then moved to linebacker. He did pretty well for himself at those positions, but his coaches had other plans for him.

'The coaches liked my work ethic and decided that I would be a good snapper,' said Hayward. 'So they got me doing a lot of different drills and I had a knack for it. I still miss linebacker, but I understand my role here. I just want to help the team however I can.'

Boskovich was a star tight end at Westlake (Calif.) High, but he tore ligaments in both knees on a single play in training camp before his senior year. He walked on at USC and redshirted his first year before eventually settling into his current role.

'I learned how to snap from Kevin Richardson, who snapped at Stanford,' said Boskovich. 'He taught me when I was in seventh grade. I played defensive end and tight end in high school. Mike Seidman of UCLA was my teammate. He was the go-to guy and whenever they triple-covered him, they threw to me. I love playing tight end and I wish I was still playing tight end, but I grew up loving the Trojans (his cousin, Martin, punted for USC in 1993 and his father, Joseph, is on USC's Board of Trustees). I would rather be a snapper at USC than an All-American tight end anywhere else.'

Both snappers took time to adjust to the techniques of the position. But it is also a position fraught with peril.

'Timing is important,' said Hayward. 'You have to get it back there fast. You can't move the punter. You have to make sure you do all that and then get up and block and then go down and try to tackle someone. That's difficult to learn.'

'I pretty much have to just snap the ball and then get big in the middle,' added Boskovich.

They both have to deal with the discomfort of being bull rushed by linemen much bigger than they are.

'It's not easy when there is a 330-pound nose guard right across from you,' said Hayward.

'You just have to take it like a man,' said Boskovich. 'It's tough because you have your head between your legs. You have to snap it and then get up quickly.'

Then, there is the pressure-packed situations that they are involved in.

'The most nerve-wracking situations were when we kicked those field goals to beat UCLA and Colorado in 2000, said Boskovich.

'Thankfully, we haven't been in that situation this year. I just remember watching the offense go down the field on the last drives in those games and thinking, 'Uh oh, here we go.''

In preparation for their jobs, Hayward immerses himself with drills, while Boskovich has some superstitions he follows to a tee.

'I do a whole bunch of drills,' said Hayward. 'I line up 10 balls and grab them and snap them as fast as I can. The goal is to get used to snapping and being accurate.'

'I snap in the hotel room the night before the game,' said Boskovich. 'I snap eight times the night before and eight the next morning when I wake up. I guess I'm a nutcase. The first game I did that was Penn State. We had a good game, so I thought, 'Why change it?' During the actual game, I buckle my chinstrap different ways and spit on my hands about 30 times.'

'I try not to be superstitious,' added Hayward. 'It's all mental.'

Neither of them are expecting a career in the NFL, but Boskovich and Hayward realize that if they did make it, their position lends itself to great longevity, unlike other positions.

'Not many people realize it, but snappers play for a long time,' said Hayward. 'I'm going to give it a try. My friend, Joe Maese, is on the Baltimore Ravens as a snapper. I train with him in the offseason. My snapping is pretty close to his. All I have to do is get bigger and be more consistent.'

'It would be fun to go on,' said Boskovich. 'I'm not counting on it. But if it happens, it happens.'

In the meantime, they both will continue their valuable roles on the USC football team, though Hayward would be happy if he never gets on the field again.

'It's weird for me,' said Hayward. 'If I have to snap, it's not good for our team. It means that we didn't get a first down. So I guess if I only snapped the ball once or twice per game, I'd be happy.'

'I hope I snap 30 times per game,' countered Boskovich.

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