Basketball has a couple of days off before the tournament. Baseball will soon be home from Houston. Football spring practice is later in the month. In their absence, you never know what you might find in westwords.
Let us start today with a quote from John Greenleaf Whittier: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”
Not too long ago an incidental line in a short Tennessee news story said second-team long snapper Will Albright was entering the transfer portal. Maybe you missed it. Maybe you said, “So what?”
Will’s exit freed up a valuable scholarship. That matters. Behind that is a really sad story of what might have been.
It started in 2018 when Jeremy Pruitt heard that Will, a junior at Greeneville High, was considered the No. 1 long snapper in high school football. Tennessee was going to need one. Let’s get the best.
Pruitt offered a scholarship. Of course, Albright said yes. Scholarships are rare for his specialty. What’s more, Tennessee was his dream school. How much better does it get?
“I can’t wait to run through the ‘T’.”
In 2020, Will Albright was a Vol freshman with the important job of long snapper.
It has been said that passing a football for punts and place kicks is much like defusing bombs. Do it right and it becomes incidental. No one even notices. Only relatives and very best friends know the name of the guy on the scene.
There is a flip side: Get one thing wrong and everything goes to hell.
Tennessee had a bomb go off on its first punt of that season. South Carolina was the foe.
Albright’s first snap was low. Punter Paxton Brooks scooped it up and shanked the kick. It didn’t matter. Tennessee had been flagged for a procedure penalty that nullified the play.
Albright’s second chance was a hot ground ball, skip, skip, skip. Brooks recovered. Chaos was coming. The punter scrambled around and, in desperation, threw an illegal forward pass to Albright.
All was not lost. Tennessee won the game, 31-27.
Instead of blowing his top about one job to do and double failure at doing it, Pruitt faked us out. He came across as compassionate and understanding.
“Will Albright, we think, is one of the best long snappers in the country. He made a mistake. I promise you when he woke up this morning, he didn’t say, ‘Hey, I’m going to roll the snap back there.’
“That just happens. We all make mistakes. Will is going to be a great player for us.”
This turned out to be another case of the coach saying one thing and doing another. Those two erroneous snaps were Will Albright’s total Tennessee career. Walk-on Matthew Salansky, from Morristown, took over and still hasn’t relinquished the job.
There was more you never heard about Albright – academic excellence, mental toughness beyond reasonable expectation, two seasons of practice, no alibis. It was Whittier and me who said what might have been.
Centering the football for kicks has gone through an extended evolution. There have been a few naturals. Hank Lauricella once said Bob Davis was such an artist, he could deliver the ball with the laces in the preferred place.
More often, getting the ball to kickers was roulette, hit or miss. Some centers could do it adequately. Some learned to add necessary yards to shotgun quarterback snaps. Some reserve linemen tried to become snappers to make themselves more valuable.
Coaches, being borderline geniuses, eventually concluded that bad snaps are among the fastest ways to lose games. The solution seemed so simple: find a specialist in high school, recruit said specialist, don’t help him too much, don’t get in his way and don’t worry about fourth-down snafus for four years.
That’s what Pruitt thought he had done. He didn’t last four years to find out.
As discouraging as the Albright story is, there is a terrific success story in the Tennessee archives.
When Morgan Cox was 10, a coach asked if anyone wanted to try snapping the ball to the kicker.
“Literally my first practice,” Cox said. “The coach lined everyone up and gave everyone a shot. I wasn’t very good. My dad was at the practice and he pulled me aside and worked with me. I got better and the coach was like, ‘You’re our guy.’”
From then on, for the rest of boyhood football and into high school at Collierville, whenever preseason camp started for whatever team, Cox would raise his hand and say, “Well, I’ve done it before.”
Cox walked on with the Volunteers. He redshirted and mostly watched his second season. For his final three seasons, Cox was the long snapper. He was awarded a scholarship prior to the 2008 season. He was invited to the Senior Bowl.
He was signed by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent. For 12 years he has cashed NFL checks. He has a Super Bowl ring. His career has been mostly mistake-free. That’s how you stay.
In 2016, Cox signed a 5-year contract extension for $5.6 million. This past season, he played for the Titans.
For the record, there are worse long-snapper stories than Will Albright’s. A catastrophe happened on Oct. 26, 2008, Steelers versus Giants.
The Pittsburgh long snapper suffered an injury. The team tried to avoid using the emergency backup. It ran once on fourth down. With seven minutes left, leading by two points, the Steelers faced fourth-and-22 at their own 18. They had no choice but to bring out James Harrison for a first-time experience.
Harrison’s snap missed the punter and bounced through the end zone. The net loss was 28 yards and a safety that tied the game. Eli Manning won it for New York.
We don’t know what happened to Harrison. We can hope Will Albright’s third snap is better than the first two.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is [email protected]