College Sports

East senior gets shot at college football by mastering a highly specialized position

East senior Stephen Elmore gets shot at college football as long snapper

Belleville East High School long snapper Stephen Elmore signed a national letter of intent to play at Eastern Illinois University.
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Belleville East High School long snapper Stephen Elmore signed a national letter of intent to play at Eastern Illinois University.

If you haven’t heard Stephen Elmore’s name mentioned during a Belleville East football game, it’s a good thing.

Because the only time any long-snapper’s name typically comes into play is when they make a mistake.

“You’re trying to get it to the (punter’s) right hip in .7 or .8 seconds from 14 yards — sometimes 14 1/2 — in high school and college ...” Elmore said. “It’s a tight target and if you don’t hit it, there’s not much else that will go right.

“It’s a craft and it takes a lot of work to get good at it.”

Elmore has mastered his largely anonymous but highly specialized position by attending Kohl’s kicking camps, training with former NFL punter David Brader, and avoiding having his name mentioned over the public-address systems of the Southwestern Conference.

Wednesday, the first day of the new college letter of intent signing period, Elmore committed himself and his long-snapping skill to Eastern Illinois University. Four Lancers teammates joined him in the school library to sign their letters with other schools.

Elmore will join the Panthers officially as a preferred walk-on, but hopes some scholarship money eventually will come his way.

“If you want to play college football as a long-snapper, you have to put yourself out there,” Elmore said. “Some colleges go out and recruit specialists, but most of the time the specialists have to recruit the colleges. It’s not easy for us.”

Elmore overhead
Stephen Elmore signs his national letter of intent to play football at Eastern Illinois University. Todd Eschman

Elmore, who is 6-foot and 205 pounds, said he got into long-snapping as a freshman at East because he didn’t think he had the size or speed to contribute at other positions. He’s since become an All-City selection by Belleville’s three high school coaches.

AJ Hantak, Eastern’s graduating five-year snapper, also works with Brader and helped Elmore get his foot in the door with Panthers’ coach Kim Dameron.

“I was low on the depth chart as a freshman, so I went to (Coach Mark) Larsen and said ‘What can I do?’” Elmore recalled. “He told me we didn’t have a long-snapper, so that’s what I did. I got good at it and now here I am today.”

Elmore is the latest in a line of accomplished long-snappers to come out of East. Nathan Hodel, a 1996 graduate, went on to play at the University of Illinois and for nine seasons in the NFL. He was the long-snapper for the Arizona Cardinals for eight seasons, including their 2008 Super Bowl season.

Nolan Dowling, a 2012 graduate, was a long-snapper three seasons at Western Kentucky before earning a scholarship. He was an invited walk-on to the Kansas City Chiefs’ training camp last fall.

“Nolan is actually one of my coaches and a great friend of mine,” Elmore said. “He got me ready for my senior season and we’ve met up regularly since then. We text all the time. I send him film and he helps me out. Nolan has been a great resource for me.”

I was low on the depth chart as a freshman, so I went to (Coach Mark) Larson and said 'what can I do?’ He told me we didn't have a long snapper, so that's what I did. I got good at and now here I am today.

Stephen Elmore, Belleville East senior football player

Having the likes of Dowling and Brader available to help out is a good thing as far as East coach Kris Stephens is concerned, since coaching a specialized position like long-snapper is not within the capabilities of a typical high school coaching staff. Making sure Elmore got enough individualized attention has been a challenge, Stephens said.

“You don’t usually have that kind of specialization in high school from a coaching standpoint, so how do you find a way to keep them busy?” he said. “It’s a unique challenge to schedule practice time with him and make sure he’s getting the work he needs to get in and try to help him and try to coach him up.

“We’re really lucky to have a guy like Nolan Dowling — one of our great Lancers of the past — make himself available and work with these guys. He did a lot of work over the summer with Stephen and our kickers.”

Elmore is the grandson of Lloyd Elmore, the first athletic director at Belleville East, who died last month.

Other Belleville East players to formally commit to college programs Wednesday were:

▪  Korey Cruise, a 6-1 275-pound offensive lineman, signed on to play at Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis. The Spartans compete in the NSAI Mid-States Football Association, the same conference as Lindenwood-Belleville.

▪  Dondi Fuller, an All-Area and all-conference defensive end, led the Lancers with 71 tackles, six sacks and two fumble recoveries. He committed to New Mexico Highlands University, an NCAA Division-II program in Las Vegas, NM.

▪  Doriun Martin, a linebacker, recorded 35 tackles and four sacks his senior season. He’ll attend Missouri Valley College, an NAIA school in Marshall, Mo.

▪  Freddie Waller, a multipurpose back, rushed 87 times for 592 yards and five touchdowns and caught 31 passes for 281 yards and two TDs. He’ll join Martin at Missouri Valley College.

“You love to see your guys have the opportunity to complete at the next level,” said Stephens. “We try to help them find the best fit athletically and academically and hope they find a college where they can enjoy the next four years. This is a big day for any program.”