Long snappers: Looking at football upside down

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Jennings was a tight end in college at Arizona State, but he got into snapping while recovering from an injury. Bored and just goofing around one day at practice, he hiked a few balls. Turns out, he had a knack for it, delivering the ball with surprising speed.

“A couple of my teammates said, `Hey, you’re pretty good at that. Why don’t you do that?’” he recalled. “So I started practicing snapping so I could help my team.”

He did it so well that he was picked in the seventh round of the 2000 draft by the 49ers.

He’s been in San Francisco ever since.

For Cox, snapping began when he was a fifth-grader playing youth football.

One day at practice, the coach asked if there were any volunteers for the thankless position. Cox raised his hand. His first attempt wasn’t so good but his dad, who happened to be watching, encouraged young Morgan to give it another try. His do-over was much better, and he had a new position on the team in addition to being the center.

By high school, Cox realized that snapping might be his path to playing at a major college. He went to special teams camp organized by Tennessee, impressed the coaches with his skills and wound up being recruited by the Volunteers. But they weren’t about to give a scholarship to someone just for snapping, so he had to walk on. He was the No. 1 long snapper for three years, but didn’t receive a scholarship until his senior season.

No hard feelings.

It helped him get to the biggest game of his life.

“I can’t say enough how blessed I feel to be here, to be somebody that gets to contribute to a potential Super Bowl win,” Cox said.

His 49ers counterpart has already started giving back to the next generation of snappers with a program known as “Jennings 1-4-1,” which runs camps and develops training aids for kids who are trying to follow in his footsteps.

The name is a play on the philosophy he urges every snapper to take _ focus on the next one, nothing more.

“Every rep, you’re trying to be one-for-one,” Jennings said. “I can do anything once. Now, I don’t know if I have 10,000 snaps left in my career, or 1,000 or 500 or 50. But I don’t know if I could do 100 in a row. That seems like a lot. That seems daunting. But the next one? I can nail the next one.”

For Jennings, the most important part of snapping is the grip. He uses what he calls the “Nerf Turbo” _ essentially, the same style he used to make one of those foam footballs do a spiral. It allows him to get impressive speed on his snaps, giving the punter or kicker an extra split-second to beat the rush.

Cox doesn’t snap the ball nearly as hard as Jennings. The Ravens specialist focuses on consistency and accuracy, taking a meticulous approach to make sure he hikes the ball the same way every time.

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