Friends and teammates who vied to play quarterback, running back and wide receiver once teased Taybor Pepper’s steadfast commitment to being a long snapper on the football team.
After all, most kids don’t grow up dreaming of snaping the ball to the punter. What lots of kids around here do dream of is playing football in front of more than 100,000 fans at the University of Michigan’s Big House.
Last week, Pepper learned he was one step closer to making that dream come true. The senior committed to the University of Michigan, where he is a “preferred walk-on” with the Wolverines’ football team.
“It’s really exciting. I get to stay close to home. I like the coaches. And the opportunity to play house…Who could turn that up?” said Pepper, who plans to study sports management or something involving communications.
Pepper began playing long snapper in sixth grade. He learned the skill from his father, Cam, who started for two years on the offensive line of the football team at the University of Illinois. After signing with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1991, he was told that he’d have a better shot of sticking with the team if he learned the art of the long snap. He learned the skill. While he didn’t stick with team the knowledge stuck with him. And he passed it on to Taybor.
Many people know enough about football to know that the center snaps the ball to the quarterback. It’s the long snapper’s job to snap the ball to the punter, field goal kicker, or extra point kicker. In eighth grade, Taybor became the long snapper for his eighth grade football team. His mother, Donna, found a long snapping camp he could attend, and Taybor became more adept at the specialized skill. By his sophomore year in high school, Pepper realized he was pretty good at it—maybe good enough to play in college. Over the years, he worked with traveling coach Chris Rubio to improve his performance.
Pepper said there a few important skills you need to be a good long snapper. For one, you need to be consistent.
“You can’t be all over the place. You’ve got to put it in the same place, every time—right on the punter’s right hip,” Pepper said.
And you need to be fast.
Cam Pepper said his son’s snaps travel 40-to-50 miles per hour.
Taybor notes that typical collegiate long snaps take .65 to .75 seconds to reach the punter. His generally take .65 seconds to find the target. His fastest ever, recorded in Las Vegas, arrived in .592 seconds.
“It has to be fast. If it’s even just a little slow, the entire play could be botched,” Pepper said.
Pepper works on his skill nearly every day after school before hitting the weight room. At times, the difficult job is finding a “poor unfortunate soul,” as his mother says, to catch Pepper’s snaps.
Everyone in the Pepper family has a story about someone complaining about the pain that comes from catching Taybor’s snaps.
“He was at the University of Michigan working with a coach and a graduate assistant was taking snaps. After a few snaps he had to quit and go get gloves,” Donna Pepper said.
Cam Pepper said he wears wide-receiver gloves now, after suffering one too many stubbed fingers.
And recently, former NFL quarterback Jeff George, a former teammate of Cam’s, asked Taybor to “take it easy” during a warm up.
Taybor Pepper will compete with at least two other walk-on long snappers in college next year. The 6’4, 190-pound Pepper knows he’ll need to put on at least 40 pounds. Winning a job on the Wolverines won’t be easy.
“I think I’ll be the best person for the job. Having competition for the job will push me to be my best,” Pepper said.
Saline grads Vince Helmuth and Nich Sheridan have also played football at the Unviversity of Michigan.