Amid a gaggle of Saints fans sporting No. 9, No. 80, No. 12 and various other familiar jerseys at the team’s training camp at the swanky Greenbrier resort in August, 15-year-old Toby Mullin of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, stood out in his No. 47, which, if you don’t know, belongs to long snapper Justin Drescher.
“I just wanted to get something different,” said Mullin, who, improbably, purchased the jersey in New Orleans in the Smoothie King Center’s Pelicans team store. “I really don’t know much about him.”
Neither do many others, except for hard-core Who Dats.
Which is the way it’s supposed to be.
Long snappers are the most anonymous players in the NFL.
It’s the only Pro Bowl spot not voted on by the players but instead picked by the game’s coaches, who can’t choose their own guys.
They haven’t even figured out a way to work them into fantasy teams.
“The best way to explain the life of a long snapper,” Saints coach Sean Payton said, “is, whenever we’re not talking about him, it’s good news.”
But Drescher, now in his fifth season, certainly has the respect of those to whom it matters most:
“The thing I appreciate about Justin is that he’s a professional. Every day he just comes through that gate and works, studying tape, in the weight room, everything,” said Saints special teams coach Greg McMahon.
“Justin makes it easy on me. He knows how to snap the ball with a minimal number of revolutions on it so I can catch it and set it exactly like the kicker wants it,” said holder Luke McCown.
“He’ll make snaps which I think are fine, but later he’ll tell me they weren’t up to his standards. Having a snapper like that breeds confidence in your whole kicking game,” said punter Thomas Morstead, who took Drescher to Hawaii when Morstead made the Pro Bowl.
To Drescher, it’s all about, as Payton likes to say, doing your job.
“I don’t care if you’re the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, whatever,” Drescher said. “If you put your name on it, you have to take pride in it.
“I want people to know that I am going to be on target every single time. I want the coaches to know that I’m going to get the job done.”
That they do.
In the past two training camps, the Saints didn’t even bother to bring anybody to challenge Drescher. That’s Drew Brees-level job security at a position where one bad snap will send the personnel scouts scrambling to find possible replacements.
That security certainly wasn’t the case in Drescher’s first game with the Saints.
Signed on the Monday before the team’s Thanksgiving Day game in his hometown of Dallas, Drescher, who had been working as a substitute teacher after being cut by Atlanta that June during the Falcons’ minicamp, had to scramble to buy a suit to wear on the flight.
And his first snap, for a Garrett Hartley 50-yard field goal attempt, was high.
But holder Chase Daniel, a teammate of Drescher’s at Southlake Carroll (as was Hartley), snared the ball, and Hartley delivered what proved to be the winning points in a 30-27 victory.
Afterward, Drescher rode home in the back seat of his parents’ SUV along with his three siblings.
“It felt like I was back playing peewee ball again,” Drescher said. “That was pretty cool.”
It was Drescher’s father who encouraged his son to develop his skills as a snapper because even though Drescher had been a second-team all-district guard in high school, he wasn’t big enough or good enough to play the position at the Division I level.
Drescher wound up at Colorado, where he was the team’s snapper for all four years. Still, he wasn’t able to make enough of a first impression with the Falcons to make it to their training camp.
But the Saints, in need of a snapper after Jason Kyle suffered a season-ending shoulder injury and Jake Ingram proved inadequate after one game, had film of Drescher, and the call went out.
Sunday’s game against San Francisco will be Drescher’s 67th straight with the Saints, including the playoffs.
But his career statistical datasheet consists of one special teams tackle during his rookie season.
The team’s descriptions of Drescher’s contributions this season consist of “Handled long-snapping duties,” “Served as the long-snapper,” “Played as the long-snapper” and “Appeared as the long-snapper.”
Apparently the Saints’ media relations staff likes to vary things just to keep it interesting.
But while Drescher hasn’t lined up for a non-special teams play since high school and at 6-foot-1, 235 pounds doesn’t have the body definition of his well-chiseled teammates, make no mistake that he is a football player. That’s especially so on punts where in addition to snapping he blocks and then goes downfield in case that elusive tackling opportunity presents itself.
“Justin’s got a lot more athleticism than people give him credit for,” McMahon said. “I just don’t like to let him know I feel that way.”
Still, Drescher said it’s rare he gets recognized by fans.
And aside from Toby Mullin, whose jersey he signed that day in training camp, the only other person he knows with a No. 47 Justin Drescher model is his grandmother, and that was because he gave it to her.
But chances are, if you look hard enough in the Saints team store, there’s probably a few more in stock.