High School Football

Belleville East grad knows catching on as an NFL long-snapper will be no snap at all

Former Belleville East long snapper shows off incredible trick play

Former Belleville East lineman and Western Kentucky long snapper Nolan Downing snaps a ball from the press box into a trash can on the field.
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Former Belleville East lineman and Western Kentucky long snapper Nolan Downing snaps a ball from the press box into a trash can on the field.

There are two ways for a long-snapper to attract attention to himself.

He can botch a snap to the holder or punter, and open himself up to blame either for costing his team points or giving points away to an opponent.

Or he can do it like former Belleville East lineman Nolan Dowling, who created a YouTube video of himself hiking the ball out an open press box window, across the grandstand of a 23,000-seat stadium and into a trash can on the field.

Whether or not that feat had anything to do the Western Kentucky University long-snapper getting invited to the Kansas City Chiefs spring training camp as an undrafted rookie is unclear.

Either way, Dowling will be in Kansas City this Friday, Saturday and Sunday hoping to attract the kind of attention that will earn him an NFL contract. He got the invitation by phone after the 2017 draft closed Saturday night.

“I’m just grateful to the Kansas City Chiefs for giving me an opportunity,” he said. “It’s going to be an awesome experience and I’m looking forward to seeing and learning how the whole system works.”

Dowling (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) has prepared himself for the opportunity by attending the Kohl’s Kicking Camp and Chris Rubio Long Snapping Camps. But he understands that catching on with an NFL team as a long-snapper is no snap at all. In fact, it’s a long shot.

Though it’s a highly specialized position and every team needs a good one, teams do not typically use any of their seven draft picks on a long-snapper. Tyler Schmitt was the first, going in the sixth round to the Seattle Seahawks in 2008. He never played a down in the NFL.

Several others arrived in the league via the draft, too, but only after being converted from other positions.

Louisville’s Chris Holba, a friend of Dowling’s, was the only pure long-snapper taken in the NFL draft last weekend, selected No. 213 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The pick surprised even Holba, who told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review that “for this to happen is beyond my wildest imagination.”

Even at WKU, Dowling had to walk on to the Hilltoppers and started two years before he was extended a scholarship.

“It’s the nature of the position,” Dowling said. “Even coming out of high school into college, you’re the last one they picked up. It’s the same deal in the pros; you have to go in and win somebody else’s job. If I get invited back, I’ll be facing a four-year veteran who’s been around the league.

“A lot of coaches have told me it takes two years to catch on, so I’m going to give it two years. I’ve just got to keep honing my craft and just see what happens.”

If he is successful in earning a contract, Dowling will be the second long-snapper from Belleville East to do so.

Nathan Hodel, a two-sport standout for the Lancers and the University of Illinois, played the inconspicuous position for four NFL teams from 2001 to 2009. He played in the Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008.

Dowling and Hodel met only briefly long ago, but Dowling says his predecessor has been an inspiration.

“It’s funny, but whenever I do something it always goes back to Nate Hodel,” Dowling joked. “I think I might have met him when I was in the second grade or something, but we’ve never really talked since then. It’s cool, though, that he went to East, is a long-snapper and made a long career of it.

“I’d be very happy to have the same success he’s had.”

Sports Editor Todd Eschman: 618-239-2540, @tceschman