IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Michael Vinson’s very first long snap occurred at Skokie Playfield in his hometown of Winnetka some six years ago.
There to receive the football was his father, Scott.
The father did not care how tight the spiral was or how quickly the ball traveled.
“My hope was, ‘Just get it to me,’ ” Scott Vinson recalls.
Michael Vinson — a fifth-grader and first-year Green Wave gridder at the time and now a 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior at New Trier — got it to his dad.
It nearly became a Rice Krispies moment — snap, crackle, pop.
Missing in action: the crackle.
“I told Michael, ‘If you can get good at long snapping at a young age, you’ll always have a job on a football team,’ ” Scott says. “He developed a love for it from there and later became very dedicated.”
A total of 110 long snappers, including one from Canada and another from Australia, attended the Kohl’s Long Snapping Camp near Milwaukee in May; Vinson finished as the 12th-best camper. He later showed up at a University of Notre Dame camp and topped all long snappers in a multi-round competition that rewarded accuracy and speed.
Vinson’s fastest snap in South Bend left his fingertips and reached its target in less than a second (0.67). The average high school long snapper hikes it to a punter or a field-goal holder in 1.05 seconds.
Vinson also displayed and honed his skills at camps at Purdue, the University of Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. He flew to Las Vegas to take part in his first Rubio Long Snapping camp and landed in Tampa, Florida, for his second — an invite-only edition.
“Been busy this summer,” understates Vinson, who trains in South Elgin with a private instructor, Nolan Owen of Nolan’s Long Snapping, twice a week and on most Sundays. “Colleges are looking for consistency and speed from a long snapper. They want you to get it quickly to a [right-footed] punter’s right hip, every single time.”
Vinson has received an offer from Army and drawn interest from SEC and Big Ten schools, as well as from Notre Dame. (Notre Dame sophomore long snapper John Shannon, a 6-2, 230-pounder, lives in Lake Forest and graduated from Loyola Academy).
“A very, very good long snapper, with a great personality,” Chris Rubio, founder of Rubio Long Snapping, says of Vinson, whose twin sister, Jacqueline, is a forward on NT’s varsity basketball team. “Hard-working kid, too. He works to get better; he doesn’t work just to work. Big difference. Michael has good size, and he uses that well to generate great power as a snapper.
“That personality of his … it’s engaging,” he adds. “It’s like talking with an adult when you’re talking with Michael. You don’t have to beat words out of him to get him to converse.”
Vinson served as the Trevians’ long snapper on punts only last fall; look for him to deliver on punts and field goals this fall.
Mike Napoleon, NT’s special-teams coach, has coached football at New Trier for 36 years.
At the very top of his Effective Long Snappers at New Trier list?
“The best I’ve ever seen here,” Napoleon says. “Michael works at it, and he does so with a great attitude. He has a good feel for long snapping, snaps the ball with a very good rotation. In our scheme, we ask him to block and cover; that’s unusual for a long snapper. You know what else he does that you don’t see very often from long snappers? He jumps in occasionally to help out with our scout teams.
“I consider him a great coach, too, with his willingness to help our guys at the lower levels. Guys notice that, remember that. That’ll be a part of Michael’s legacy at New Trier.”
Vinson discovered at camps that two of the long snappers he met aren’t allowed to work on their craft during practice sessions in the fall. One is from Florida, the other from Tennessee.
The news stunned him.
“Coaches told them they had to work on their long snapping at home,” Vinson says. “So they had to do that with their fathers or with others. I am very, very fortunate to be a part of a New Trier program that lets me do the drills — some of them on the side — I need to do. Typical day, when we’re working on snaps, I snap a football about 55 times. We also do some drills without a ball … slow-motion drills. We work on footwork, do ladder drills, work with the agility bags.
“And [head coach Brian] Doll has been great. Last year, once a week, I’d meet with him in his office, and we’d discuss the college-recruiting process.”
But don’t think Vinson’s only area of expertise is long snapping. Need to know the keys to preparing sumptuous fare involving barbeque?
Vinson is your teen.
He and his father have entered barbeque cook-off contests. Their best results to date: an eighth place (barbeque chicken) and a ninth (barbeque pulled pork).
Vinson also loves to hunt and fish with his father. The pair once joined Michael’s grandpa, Mike, to do some salmon fishing on the Karluk River in Alaska. The population (40) of Karluk, Alaska, is a little more than half the size of most Class 8A varsity football rosters.
There might come a time when Michael Vinson finds himself in a boat on the Gulf of Mexico, waiting, waiting, waiting for a bite. Who knows? He might even reel in a record-setting catch on that day.
You can see the headline, can’t you?
See: “Long snapper nets enormous red snapper.”