It takes a special type of person to be a football team’s long snapper.
Countless hours are spent mastering a precise task with no promise of individual recognition.
While the placekicker gets mobbed after a game-winning field goal, the long snapper is usually noticed only when the snap goes wrong.
It’s not a job for everyone, but it’s perfect for former Skyview High School player Thomas Fletcher.
“You have to be at peace with that this is what you are,” said Fletcher. “Is it about recognition or winning championships? For me, it’s about winning championships and taking care of the guys.”
The perfect guy for the job just finished a perfect season at the nation’s premier college football program.
Fletcher and his Alabama teammates completed arguably the most dominant season in college football history with a 52-24 win over Ohio State in the College Football Playoff championship on Jan. 11. The Crimson Tide went 13-0, outscoring opponents by an average of 48-19.
Fletcher, a senior, was flawless on snaps for 77 extra points and 14 field goals, leading to a perfect season for placekicker Will Reichard.
On the rare occasion that Alabama punted, Fletcher was also perfect on 32 snaps.
On Jan. 9, Fletcher was named the winner of the Patrick Mannelly Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate long snapper.
While much of the spotlight goes toward players such as Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith or quarterback Mac Jones, few players have been woven into Alabama’s football fabric as much as Fletcher.
His 55 career starts were the most of any player in this year’s team. He’s been Alabama’s long snapper since his freshman year, when Alabama won its previous national title.
In as unusual a season college football has ever seen due to COVID-19, Fletcher emerged as one of the team’s most influential senior leaders.
So Fletcher was fully deserving when his feats were recognized on the ESPN broadcast of the championship game. It was fitting that he was alongside legendary Alabama coach Nick Saban when the victory Gatorade shower arrived.
“What I enjoy most is being part of a team,” Fletcher said in a recent phone interview. “In playing any position, you try to create value for the people around you. I love the process of investing into a program and giving everything I can give to make those around me better.”
Mentality made in Clark County
Fletcher began snapping footballs between his legs at 4 years old. It came naturally because his father, Tom Fletcher, was a long snapper too.
The elder Fletcher, who now works as a senior executive with the Phoenix Suns, played for San Diego State and spent a short time with the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders.
At 12, Fletcher decided to get serious about long snapping. He had been a ball boy for Skyview, where his father was a volunteer assistant coach.
The 2011 Skyview team, which reached the Class 4A state championship game, inspired Fletcher to have a future in football.
“To see the leadership those guys had and the effect they had on creating success for each other, that’s where I really got an interest in playing football,” Fletcher said. “If long snapping means I get to be a part of something like this, then sign me up.”
Fletcher started honing his craft. He attended the Rubio Long Snapping Camp, which as a sophomore ranked him the No. 4 recruit nationally in the Class of 2017.
Fletcher’s sophomore year was his last at Skyview. He moved to Texas and then the IMG Academy in Florida, where he graduated as the top long snapper recruit in the country. He chose Alabama over Florida State, Oregon and Texas A&M.
Learning from the best
With a record seven national titles, Nick Saban’s coaching credentials are unmatched.
Fletcher not only saw first-hand why Saban is so successful, he learned from the coach how to be a leader himself.
That process started with conversations about football and life, but mostly about Fletcher’s favorite hobby, golf.
Those talks eventually turned toward how to be an effective leader.
“If you want to get the most out of the team, first you have to get the most out of yourself,” Fletcher said, when asked one lesson he learned from Saban. “He’s one of the greatest men and leaders in any industry you could imagine. You want to talk about perseverance and work ethic, that’s Coach Saban.”
This season, Fletcher became the first special-teams player to be named to Saban’s leadership council twice.
And leadership was never more valuable than this season. COVID-19 provided constant uncertainty about whether a practice, a game or a player might be affected.
Through that all, Alabama’s program remained on an even keel. The Tide didn’t waver even when Saban tested positive for COVID-19 in late November, forcing him to miss the Tide’s Iron Bowl rivalry game against Auburn.
“In a year with a lot of adversity, the one thing that stayed the same was that we played for a Nick Saban organization,” Fletcher said. “That organization doesn’t change for anything except Nick Saban. The practices, the meetings, the routines all stay the same.”
But there were still times when the stress of being an athlete amid a pandemic impacted Alabama’s players.
“When stuff happens that is difficult or unexpected, the younger guys can get frustrated,” Fletcher said. “More than the coaches, those guys look to the older players. Any adversity that they’re facing, we’ve already faced.”
The pursuit continues
Fletcher isn’t one to spend a lot of time reflecting on his successes. Since the national title game, he has been training with coach Gary Zauner in Arizona, preparing for the Senior Bowl on Jan. 30 in Mobile, Alabama.
Then, he hopes, will come a future in the NFL. With the NFL Combine not having in-person workouts due to COVID-19, Fletcher’s best chance to show off for scouts will be at Alabama’s Pro Day this spring.
Fletcher said that while winning a national title as a freshman and a senior were equally special, they felt different.
“This most recent title, for my class of guys this was our team,” he said. “Those were our players that we had the responsibility to lead and get going in the right direction. To see the accumulation of everything that went into the last three years end with winning a national title, that was special.”
Fletcher’s football journey isn’t done. The one precise task he has spent most of his life mastering, the long snap, remains his passion.
“Nobody is ever going to be perfect, but what you can do is constantly work to bridge that gap,” Fletcher said. “I’ve chosen to go down this path.”