Special Teams Success A Snap For Feld

Special Teams Success A Snap For Feld

All this end-of-career interviewing has Aaron Feld amused. And, maybe, a tiny bit worried. He's a deep snapper, after all, and having reporters around is not just rare but rarely a good thing. "I've never wanted attention," Feld shrugs. "They say it takes a true fan to know who the snapper is, and if you ever get mentioned on TV it's a bad thing!"

All said half-seriously, of course. Feld might not care to talk too much about himself but he does appreciate attention being paid to his otherwise obscure craft. And more to the point, how one of the more curious Mississippi State recruiting choices of 2006 has been proven wise…snap after snap after snap over the course of Feld's four varsity seasons.

"I feel I've used it wisely," says the Homewood, Ala., native.

Two Bulldog coaches certainly have used Feld's efficiency on special teams, and Dan Mullen is glad his predecessor invested a scholarship in a deep snapper. In two seasons the current head coach—and self-acknowledged special teams boss--can't recall an errant effort from Feld.

Though, Mullen will tease a bit, initially proclaiming Feld to be as much a prima donna as any kicker…then laughing. "Aaron takes his job very seriously and is very much a perfectionist at being a long snapper. He has a special role on the team and it's 100% of his focus."

Not that Feld came to Mississippi State not intending to focus entirely on hiking the ball. An accomplished athlete at Homewood High, he had hopes of lining up at linebacker and even practiced there as a redshirting 2006 freshman. But by the time he went active it was in this restricted role.

One that has worked out rather well for everyone involved. Feld has done his exotic task with such ruthless efficiency that he has achieved both position priorities: no blown snaps, and no attention…until now that is. Media have sought him out for various reasons, most obviously the fact Feld is one of the seven current Bulldogs who participated in Mississippi State's last bowl trip. He snapped a lot of punts, one PAT, and a field goal in the 10-3 Liberty Bowl victory. Now here he is ending his college career in another post-season event.

This naturally brings up other memories, such as Feld's on-field debut. Not that he or much anyone wants to remember that '07 evening. "My very first snap was against LSU," he recalls. "National TV, Thursday night, first game of the season. It starts raining ten minutes before the game, I'm already shaken a little and now I'm thinking the ball is gonna be slick. It was ugly (Ed note: not as much as the game itself) but I got it back there! That's the last time I really got nervous during a game."

Indeed, Feld settled quickly into the steady course kept through these four varsity falls. Though, if asked about bad snaps, "I can think of two off the top of my head, and they were both this season," he admits. "For whatever reason I had two high snaps to Heath early this season." Fortunately punter Hutchins came down with each and no damage done. "Other than that I think I've been pretty much on."

But isn't that the point? Bad snap-pers don't last long after all. Feld agrees that this is a position where consistency, approaching perfection, is the norm rather than just a goal. Yet making snaps automatic is far from, well, automatic.

"I get a kick out of people talking about how hard it is. I've been doing this eight, nine years, it's natural for me at this point. But it's not easy." Certainly not as easy as Feld, along with holder Chris Cameron, make it appear in game-speed. That seemingly automatic snap/place/kick is the result of a lotttttt of daily drilling. OK, so not as many snaps and certainly not as physically grinding as what blockers and tacklers and throwers and catchers have to do, and that with a bunch of coaches tearing down every move made. The specialists do enjoy a degree of practice privacy over on their own field.

"They say ‘Y'all got it made'," Feld relates. "And the truth is, we do! But we struggle every day to stay on task and not mess around. That's part of why we train like we do, for mental toughness." Not to mention to maintain timing, whether it be placekick or punt snapping. For all the other work-day luxury they may enjoy, pity the specialist suddenly summoned for a particular drill who blows the snap, catch, and/or kick.

Not that these Bulldogs are motivated merely motivated by fear…or at least not Feld. "It's like my high school coach told me, if you stop getting better you stop being good." And he does like being good at this job. Thing is, though, Feld's specialty is not easy to describe and harder yet to share. He hears from prep player parents who figure Junior might catch a college coach's eye if he can just deep snap and want an expert's opinion.

"The first thing I do is, I don't teach them, I let them snap to me," says Feld. "And you either have it or you don't. I mean, I can't teach you how to snap; I can teach you how I snap. I can show you a few adjustments here and there where the ball is hitting or make it faster, but it's not something you can really teach."

What one can do, now, is refine that existing knack. Feld says, if one wishes to be technical, yes, he can fire the ball back with a specific rate of spin. But that's a rather fine point anyway; his assignment is to get that ball back to Hutchins on a string. "It is important to have it in the right spot but it's more important to get it back there fast. Whereas, on the extra point or field goal you have to have it in the perfect spot, the laces have to be right. If the holder has to waste time the kicker has less time to focus on the ball."

Then again, holder Cameron has definitely held up his end of the placekick equation. Funny thing, Feld notes; forever kickers have been heckled for their misses, "and recently holders are getting blamed," he says. "I feel we snappers get away with a lot! But Cameron has made me look good a couple of times." In fact the only issues Feld has found are rare occasions when his holder doesn't measure off the mark juuuuuust right.

"What really messes you up is when they back it up to eight yards or seven-and-a-half yards, you don't have a choice where they line up! But we haven't had a lot of problems with that." Nor with punts. Speaking of which, Feld has thrived under current management in the part of the game; i.e., getting the ball off and taking off downfield to have some real fun.

In 2007-'08, the snapper was told to take a direction depending on how the kick set up and pick off a crossing blocker. Now? "Since Coach Mullen got here it's snap and go, get down the field and either make a tackle or make a guy miss or recover a fumble. My job is get down there and get in the way, where used to it was block and make sure nobody got in the way." And yes, Feld has been able to show some of those old linebacking skills in such situations.

"I love running down to make tackles! But I'm heavier and it makes it easier on extra points and field goals. I'm still not slow but I'm not as fast as I used to be!"

Speed can be something of a Feld family specialty, though not afoot. Aaron comes from a car family, his father and brother being "into the hot rod thing" he says. His own ride is something of a rod too, a mid-80s model Honda CRX upgraded with an Acura engine. Not by original plan, though. "We got it for parts, literally the day before I came to college the emergency brake on my brother's car gave out and it rolled down and hit the house." Somehow Aaron took the blame and he doesn't exactly deny it either now.

"But I gave him my car." And thus this Feld ended up with a home-built special that has carried him to-and-fro for five faithful years. Not that Feld would need his arm twisted too far if somebody offered to swap for, say… "A '67 Z-28, like my father used to have. Marina Blue, with a white top." A noble ambition but probably beyond the purse of a graduate student. In fact if Feld had it to do over now, he'd have brought a scooter to school. Cohort Cameron has one and Feld likes driving it around…well, until the brake lever came off in his hand one day. Feld was able to apply family lessons for a fix even if, he admits, he's no ace wrench. "I enjoy not being helpless, but…"

Ahhh, but he can be quick to react when opportunity arises. For a guy who generally avoids attention, #46 assuredly got in the center of such after the UAB game. Not for snapping a football, though; for handing an engagement ring to Blakely Bailey. Feld had been planning this for a while and had a friend in the student section bring the ring that evening in case other events worked out.

"I didn't want to taint a proposal with the stink of a loss!" Feld admits. Happily for everyone State won, Feld was able to make connections with the comrade, and encircled by teammates Miss Bailey accepted the offer. They'll be wed on May 14.

Speaking up in such a way goes a bit against Feld's grain as he really does prefer the low-key lifestyle. He has no lack of friends on and off the team but what with pending nuptials and graduate school duties, "I don't hang out a lot. I have school 25-30 hours a week." Feld earned his B.A. last May in construction and land development and now is working towards a masters in exercise science with the emphasis on strength and conditioning.

As far as his role within the locker room, "I'm not vocal but with my guys I guess I kind of got thrust into a leadership role, having been here the longest." Thing is, leadership on special teams means a different sort of Dog. Or as Feld says, this is not about being rah-rah so much as steady-stable.

"Special teams isn't really an effort thing as far as the snapper, holder, and kickers. Now running down on the kick, that's effort. But we can't go ‘effort' a kick to make it better."

Then again, there is no measuring how much effort has gone into bringing these Bulldogs to their Gator Bowl matchup with Michigan. As part of the 2007 Liberty Bowl lineup Feld saw first-hand what went into making Mississippi State a winner. That success didn't last, but now in 2010 he is confident about leaving a program in much more stable shape for the long-term.

And not just on the field. Whether it's because special teamers have more time to notice such things, but Feld takes particular pride in what Bulldog football means to faithful followers. They, too, endured ups-and-downs over these four falls, and a New Years Day date in Jacksonville is something everyone should celebrate, he says.

"Absolutely. It's a big-time bowl and great for our fans. We work so hard out here all the time to be here, and without us there's no fans. But without the fans there's really no us. We've had steady crowds ever since I've been here but it's really picked up and I feel this is their reward."

At the same time though, making his Bulldog-bow in the Gator Bowl is no small reward for Feld as well. Especially given the still-unusual circumstances of how he found himself specifically recruited to play in the SEC. And candor requires noting that in the original plan Feld was supposed to sign and grayshirt first. As it turned out somebody on the aid-roster left and the grant was awarded to, yes, a deep snapper.

"I caught a lot of ‘why did you get a scholarship?' from some other players. Not players here but at other schools," Feld says. So did that coaching staff at the time. Nobody is second-guessing their decision today. "It was an opportunity," says Feld, and not just for him. "I don't think I would have been able to come here without it." In fact he expects to finish State with a graduate degree, a bride, a fairly flawless record in 50 games of snapping deep, two bowl trips…and no debts.

Oh, and without any unnecessary attention. Hmmm, wouldn't he like being promoted for some sort of recognition at his position? "I'm good!" he says, waving off such suggestions.

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