- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

Ryan Kuehl thinks his unlikely athletic career has outlasted those of his high school and college classmates precisely because he never expected to be a pro. He was always thinking ahead to the next step, even before he was voted onto all-American teams as a senior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda.

So, naturally, the New York Giants snapper is planning his next move as he heads into his 10th season in the National Football League.

Kuehl, 34, and his wife, Kim, and two young children, Tyler and Olivia, moved from Avenel back into his childhood neighborhood in Potomac, five doors down from his parents.

In the spring, he plans to finish the master’s degree in business administration he started at American University (AU) in the winter of 1998 after his second season with the Washington Redskins.

“I prepared myself so well for when I’m done because I never expected to play one year, let alone 10,” Kuehl said. “Everyone thinks they’re going to play 10 years and make $15 million. That’s just not the case. When you don’t think you’ll play one year, every offseason you’ll work to further yourself outside of the game.

“I knew I had a very slim chance to make it coming out of Virginia. My idea was to work hard enough to put myself into the position to get lucky, and I got lucky. I had a little bit of talent and a lot of dedication. … I’ve been very fortunate.”

Fortunate, yes, but Kuehl also was smart enough to realize as a teenager that learning one specialized skill, snapping, could make all the difference.

“I made the Whitman varsity as a sophomore. My coach, Rich Cameron, said, ‘If you can learn how to snap, I won’t have to worry about it for the next three years and you could get a scholarship,’” Kuehl said. “I got a scholarship to Virginia because of my play on defense. My coaches there told me that I might not get a chance in the NFL as a defensive lineman but that if I could snap, I might get into a camp where I could show what I could do on defense. So that’s what I did. I played with a lot of guys in college who could’ve snapped but never chose to work at it.”

Not working has never been in Kuehl’s manual even though he was raised in an affluent neighborhood and snappers barely break a sweat in most practices. After starting his final two years at Virginia, Kuehl surprised himself by making the practice squad of the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers and sticking around the whole 1995 season.

“I learned more in that year in San Francisco on the practice squad than any year since in regards to how you go about your business, how you treat people,” Kuehl said. “Older guys like Gary Plummer and Jerry Rice were such pros. I played against Bart Oates and Jesse Sapolu every day in practice. I kept my mouth shut and paid attention to how they did things. A football team is like any other business. The leadership provided at the top, how things are done and how people are treated filters to the bottom. I’ve seen it in good organizations and bad ones. It’s the same in business.”

Kuehl isn’t sure exactly what he will do with his master’s degree, but he is grateful for AU’s forbearance during his long slog.

“Everyone at AU has been unbelievably accommodating of my weird schedule,” said Kuehl, who hasn’t even been able to manage a full class some semesters. “I’ve focused on entrepreneurship and marketing. I know I want to work with people, maybe as a wealth management adviser or in private equity funding. I’ve been a player rep for the [Cleveland] Browns and the Giants the last few years, which got me involved with the pension plan. I tell my teammates what they’re supposed to hear, not what they want to hear. People say, ‘You’re young. You can be aggressive and go for the big returns because you have plenty of time to make it up if they don’t materialize.’ I take the opposite tack. I say, ‘You’re ahead, stay ahead. You don’t have to take the risks because you’re ahead.’ Hopefully some of the guys have listened because I’m the rep and they trust me.”

Kuehl also has learned to trust himself on the field, a skill that he thinks is critical for a snapper. After getting into 15 games, starting five, as a defensive lineman for the Redskins in 1996 and 1997, Kuehl was shocked to be cut the next summer. Out of football in the fall of 1998, he dabbled in television and went to school full time until he was signed the following February by the expansion Cleveland Browns, who were being run by former 49ers executives Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark. It was in Cleveland that Kuehl honed his snapping skills.

“There must have been more than 100 guys in our first minicamp, and they asked everyone who thought he could snap to work with [holder] Chris Gardocki and [kicker] Phil Dawson,” Kuehl said. “[Special teams coach Ken Whisenhunt, aka Whiz] asked Chris who the best was, and he said that I was. Whiz didn’t even know how to pronounce my name, but he came up to me the next day and said, ‘You’re snapping field goals today.’ After the last minicamp, he told me I was their long snapper. I worked my tail off during the rest of the offseason. I played defense my first two years in Cleveland as well, but snapping was the meal ticket.”

With the help of his offseason holder, his father, Kuehl developed his special skill to near perfection.

“It’s almost like riding a bike,” said Kuehl, who hasn’t taken a non-scout team practice rep since 2000. “I know exactly where everything needs to be. I could roll out of bed at 3 in the morning and do it. In a game, I try to turn my mind off and let my muscle memory take over. In practice, I think about it a lot more and try to work on things. More than anything, snapping has taught me to calm my nerves. When I played defense, I really had to be on edge to make up for my limited ability. Now I’ve learned how to manage myself better. I focus better now. I focus better on the golf course, too. A golf swing is very much like snapping, the repetitive motion. Golf is like snapping. You have to trust yourself. Otherwise, there’s too much mental anxiety.”

Kuehl, thrilled to have moved back into his beloved childhood neighborhood, isn’t anxious about his future after beating the odds for so long. Only four Washington-area players active when he debuted in 1996 are still on NFL rosters.

“The Giants might decide to get a younger guy or someone who plays another position, but I would like to finish strong these next two years [to complete a five-year, $3.62 million contract] and have the option if I want to keep playing,” Kuehl said. “I don’t want to be that guy who’s hanging on year after year, snapping five games here and three games there. I’d like to make a clean break and get on with the rest of my life. I’m prepared.”

He always has been.

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