All it takes is 0.7 seconds for Drew Howell to make his mark.
With a snap of the wrist, a follow through and a dazzling spiral, the senior Oregon long snapper successfully completes his objective of transporting the football from his hands to the awaiting punters.
For four straight years, Howell has handled snapping duties and for the most part has been relatively unknown. This lack of spotlight and silent mentality is the key to Howell’s success and the effect from a consistent job well done.
“If nobody knows who you are, then you’ve done a great job,” Oregon special teams coach Tom Osborne said. “We’ve been very fortunate that Drew’s been so consistent. I don’t ever take it for granted. Not a single day.”
From the first time Howell snapped a football, it was evident that it was something he was skilled at.
“I remember when my coach first showed me how to hold a ball,” Howell said. “My first snap just felt pretty easy.”
Knowing his ability, Howell decided to fine-tune his snapping. As a sophomore in high school, Howell would go into his basement and set up his mattress against the wall. He’d whip the ball against the base of the mattress for 30 minutes a day. Snapping quickly became a byproduct of his hard work and muscle memory.
“(The snaps) all look exactly the same,” national long snapping coach Chris Rubio said. “He’s like a jug machine and that’s what you want out of a long snapper. He’s pretty much the entire package.”
There are two factors to being a successful long snapper: the physical tools you possess and mental toughness. What makes Howell so unique is his ability to excel in both categories. A psychology major, Howell knows the importance of handling the stress that comes from such a pivotal position.
“I think it helps with the mental side of the game,” Howell said about being a psychology major. “Being a specialist, I feel like it’s a lot more mental in games than in practice.”
As an 18-year-old true freshman, Howell entered a sold-out Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee for his first snap at the collegiate level. Nervousness surrounded the situation, but Howell decided that he would “just get the job done” — a mentality that has embodied his entire slate of work at Oregon.
As consistent as Howell’s been during his career, he’s never accepted anything less than a perfect snap — a mindset that stems from his father. Mick Howell works as a painter and Drew would spend some time working with his father. In painting, failing to stay in the lines is considered a failure. For Howell, missing his intended target is cause for review.
“I’m a perfectionist, so right here that would be bad,” Howell said, motioning about three inches up and down from his intended target. “When I used to work with him, I couldn’t get the paint out of the lines.”
Now that Howell is in the twilight of his career as an Oregon Duck, it’s easier than ever to recognize how important Howell’s consistency has been to the special teams unit as a whole. A consistency that the Ducks will miss starting next fall.
“You don’t really appreciate someone or something till they’re not there anymore,” Osborne said. “To be as consistent as Drew’s been, that’s the goal, to get somebody who’s that good.”
Follow Joseph Hoyt on Twitter @jhoyt42