Kevin McDermott can thank the modern NFL for helping him land perhaps the most unusually specific job in all of pro sports.
McDermott is the Vikings’ long snapper, having won the job earlier this week when longtime Viking Cullen Loeffler was cut. McDermott’s not the guy who punts, placekicks or holds the ball for kicks, three other very specific tasks. No, he’s the guy who gets the ball to the guys who do that.
A job that was once a side gig is now a specialty position, as McDermott learned when he snapped for veteran kicker Phil Dawson as a rookie with the 49ers in 2013.
“He told me stories of how when he first came into the league it would be a tight end or center going up to the ball to snap it,” McDermott said. “As a kicker, he’d come to the line and see the snapper shaking out a jammed finger, taking tape off or throwing gloves to the side. That doesn’t instill confidence.”
But special teams can be the difference between wins and losses, playoffs or no playoffs, firings and extensions. Just last year, a bad punt snap led to a game-deciding safety in a 37-35 Vikings loss to Miami. The game before that, three missed field goals — one a block from 26 yards — doomed Minnesota in a two-point loss to Detroit.
If baseball is a game of inches, pro football in 2015 is a game of decimals. And at the heart of that is McDermott’s job.
McDermott has been long-snapping since seventh grade, eventually earning a scholarship in that role at UCLA. Perfection in college was still the goal, McDermott said, but the “level of execution is heightened” in the NFL.
The NFL standard from snap to hold to kick is 1.3 seconds. Every inch, wobble or improperly positioned lace that McDermott’s snap deviates from perfect has the potential to add a fraction of a second to the process while also corrupting the precision timing of the kicker approaching the ball.
So while the rest of the Vikings were on one practice field Wednesday, McDermott, punter/holder Jeff Locke and kicker Blair Walsh were on another field, repeating snap-hold-kick in a seemingly endless loop. McDermott’s feet are positioned the same every time, and he holds the ball the same every time. Locke’s spot is in the same place every time.
“I think we are judged by the ability to go out on the field and do our job correctly every time we’re out there,” McDermott said.
McDermott ideally delivers a ball that is hard enough to keep the timing right but soft enough that it’s easily catchable. And in a game, he does that before immediately preparing for hard contact. If he does it well time after time, though, he has himself a nice little career.
“I’m blessed,” he said. “I have a job that I have fun doing.”