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March 3, 2010It is a rare true freshman that can long snap in the Pac-10. Rarer is the position player who long snaps. Michael Clay was both for the Oregon Ducks last season. This past signing group included a new scholarship snapper, Drew Howell. Coach Tom Osborne sat down with Duck Sports Authority and explained the value of allocating scholarships to specialty athletes.
"When we got into the season, Michael Clay was our long snapper," began the 17-year coaching veteran. "I've never seen a true freshman do this before. He did a really good job for us. But, Michael Clay also plays 30% of the game for us on defense, and as time goes on is going to do more and more because he's really a good football player. He also covers kickoffs, he blocks guys on kickoff return, he's on punt return, he's the only snapper in the league who plays anything else. I can't think of any other snapper in 16 or 17 years of doing this that's ever played another position. Sure there must have been some but I can't think of one."
The Ducks had a luxury last season when Clay won the long snapping position. Since true freshmen rarely play on defense, giving Clay a seat on the plane was a bonus. But as the linebacker from San Jose proved his worth on defense and other special teams, the situation was altered.
"We decided we can't risk that Michael will get dinged up," explained Osborne. "For example, that first punt against UCLA, he goes down there and we make a really nice play at the five yard line. But he comes up holding his shoulder. I'm going 'Oh my gosh how is he going to snap?' He has to go back there on kickoff return and block a guy coming from a 40 yard dead sprint. Guys get their hands, wrists, fingers, elbows all dinged up playing football. All the sudden you get in a situation where your snapper is down and can't go, or can play linebacker with his body all taped up but not snap it. So we've got to find somebody else to take over that position."
Enter Drew Howell. The Ducks knew they had need of a dedicated long snapper, and the 6-foot-2 Tehachapi (CA) standout was a known quantity to the Oregon staff.
"Drew was in our camp last year," Osborne said. "We had a kicking camp for the first time last year, we're having another this year, and he did a great job in our camp."
Last season for the 10-2 Tehachapi Warriors, Howell was indispensable on the field. Osborne was impressed with his versatility.
"Doing a little more research on him we found he plays inside linebacker for his team, he plays offensive guard and he never came off the field for his high school team. He's an all-league kid in his area, he is a 3.5 student. He has just awesome, awesome parents. His coach (Steve Denman) has been at his school for a long time and is a great coach who I have a lot of respect for. They just rave about what kind of guy he is. We can talk about an Oregon kind of guy. He's a good kid who makes good choices."
Coach Osborne explained that the transition from high school rules of snapping to college rules isn't always easy.
"We'll have to see you know," said the Tight Ends/Special Teams coach. "Snapping in high school and the protection issues that they don't have to do in college, sometimes it takes guys a year or two to be able to do that. Some guys never get it but in terms of getting the ball back there he can do it. He has size and he has played the offensive line, he's going to adapt to learning that better than some guy who has never played up front."
Knowing very well the learning curve at any position, Coach Osborne was pragmatic in his outlook for Howell this coming season.
"Drew will come in and compete," cautioned Osborne. "How long it will take him to win a job and if he wins a job? Who knows? We thought he was the best guy available who met all the criteria we were looking for. Michael might play other parts of the punt team, be a backup snapper if Drew is ever the long snapper. Could be after fall camp, could be a year from now, could be two. It gives us another guy to compete."
Like all incoming players, Drew Howell will not be handed a job. Michael Clay did an outstanding job as a true freshman long snapper in 2009. Redshirt freshman Jeff Palmer was near-perfect as a short snapper. The Oregon staff got what they wanted in Howell, quality competition at those two positions.