Hank Lauricella and Bob Davis were the key names the last time I tried to write westwords about long snaps from center in college football. That was two or three decades ago.
Roots reached back a greater distance. Davis was the center and Lauricella the all-American tailback in Robert R. Neyland’s single wing of 1950 and 1951. Those were good times, some of the best in Tennessee football history. Being able to look back is one of the small rewards for being old.
Hank never forgot that Bob could somehow snap the football for punts so laces ended up on the preferred right side.
Bob said it was a God-given gift, like some people can write and some can paint and some can play the French horn.
All discussions of snappers and snaps have been downhill from that.
I’m going to go for it one more time. Tennessee long-snapper Matthew Salansky is one interesting Volunteer. I don’t know if he can write or paint but he can deliver the football spot-on-target for punts, field goals and extra points.
Matte is different in a dozen other ways. In this era of gifts and grants and layers of student loans, Salansky has paid his way to school with earnings from his summer lawn-mowing business. He actually trimmed with his own weed-eater and wiped perspiration on his UT tee shirt.
Give that some thought.
Salansky is from Morristown. From as far back as he can remember, he wanted to play football at Tennessee. From half that far back, he realized that a 5-10 heavyweight who didn’t run real fast might not make it as a Vol linebacker or running back, his roles on state playoff teams at Morristown West High.
“So, I started long-snapping for the sole reason of playing at Tennessee.”
Salansky started his new thing as a sophomore in Morristown. He found it weird.
“I mean being upside down in general is kind of weird for anybody.”
Matthew was blessed with good football bloodlines. His dad, Gary, is strength and conditioning coach at their high school. Uncle Casey Woods was a Tennessee wide receiver and honor student in the 2000s. He coaches at Southern Methodist.
Casey’s father is better known. Sparky Woods went from Oneida to Carson-Newman to a forever coaching career – head coach for 20 years or so at Appalachian State, South Carolina and Virginia Military, assistant at 10 places, including Tennessee, Alabama and the New York Jets.
Sparky is currently senior advisor to Mack Brown at North Carolina.
Matthew arrived at Tennessee in 2019 with considerable uncertainty. He had no assurance that he was good enough. He did have a link, a contact, Chris Rumph, outside linebackers coach for Jeremy Pruitt.
Connections? In another time and place, Sparky Woods had recruited Rumph to South Carolina.
Salansky was already enrolled. He was granted a tryout. OK, he could be on the team and hope to develop.
Pruitt brought in a “name” kicker for 2020, Will Albright from Greeneville, second-ranked long snapper in the country. That complicated the situation. Matthew and Will are friends.
“One of my best friends and he was really good.”
I want to report this part carefully: Matthew beat him out. Matthew had 11 snaps in the Vols’ opener, 86 for the season. He snapped eight times and made two tackles at Georgia.
In time, his hustle downfield was viewed as a significant bonus by Josh Heupel and special teams coordinator Mike Ekeler. It has led to a number of fair catches.
Will Albright, who also wanted to be a Volunteer, became a reserve linebacker.
Matthew Salansky has only been on the edge of the football spotlight. He has twice been nominated for the Burlsworth Trophy, presented annually to the most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett was last year’s recipient.
Matthew has had his hands on history.
He remembers how excited he was when Bru McCoy made the catch to put the Vols in field-goal range against Alabama last season. He remembers how calm he was, just do your job, when it was time to cash in that opportunity.
With two seconds remaining, he delivered a strike to holder Paxton Brooks for Chase McGrath’s knuckle kick that sneaked over the crossbar to beat Alabama 52-49 on the third Saturday in October 2022.
He had a good view. He wondered if it was going to make it. He tried to lean it in.
Salansky had never been involved in a field-storming. He says he didn’t really know what to do.
“I kind of just went crazy and ran around in a circle.”
Center, holder and kicker usually do a group hug after a hit. That time they didn’t. It was wild out there.
From this distance, Matthew Salansky sees that Vol victory as a humbling event. He had been a fan forever. He thinks he was 5 or 6 when Tennessee previously defeated Alabama. He calls the win an awesome experience. To have been a small part is a lifetime treasure.
Do you suppose playing football at Tennessee is more meaningful for some than others?
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org