Aaron Golub prefers to talk about other topics than his limited sight, but he is not blind to the visibility he has received because of it.
Golub, a legally blind long snapper who will play football for Tulane this fall as a preferred walk-on, capped a surge of media attention by appearing on the May 27 edition of “Good Morning America.” On the show’s outdoor set in New York, he demonstrated his snapping technique by firing the ball to co-host Michael Strahan.
Strahan, who retired from the New York Giants as the NFL record holder for sacks in a season, was not expecting the power. He got drilled, doubling over in pain for a few seconds before composing himself.
“I felt bad about it,” Golub said. “He was at a short distance that was kind of hard to make it slow enough, and it hit him. He was OK.”
As Strahan found out, Golub, from the town of Newton just outside of Boston, is serious about his craft. Born with no vision in his right eye and limited sight in his left eye, he sees himself as much more than a human-interest story. He plans to beat the odds by earning playing time at Tulane.
As the No. 12 long snapper prospect in the country according to 247Sports.com, he believes the toughest part of his blindness at it relates to football has been the way others perceive him.
“There were definitely a lot of schools that didn’t want to touch me because of it,” he said. “Tulane realized I was a good enough snapper that it doesn’t affect me. They were willing to work with me, and I’m very happy that they chose to.”
Legally blind track athlete Marla Runyan qualified for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney in the 1,500 meters and finished eighth, better than any other American. Former Miami Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese was legally blind in his right eye for most of his career. North Fort Myers High in Florida has a legally blind defensive tackle, C.J. Lepley, who played sparingly last year.
Golub could become the first legally blind college football letterman. His unlikely journey began in the seventh grade when he played for his middle school team, getting time at center and defensive end.
After his sophomore year at Newton South High, he asked to move to long snapper.
“I decided I really wanted to keep playing the game and not give it up,” he said. “I realized that maybe if I got good enough at long snapping, I’d have a shot (at playing in college) because there’s not a ton of good long snappers out there. I enjoy it. It’s definitely fun. I wouldn’t put in all the hours if I didn’t like it.”
Golub’s regimen is rigid. During the school year, he snapped for an hour a day, arriving at Newton South at 6 a.m., taking a shower around 7 and attending his first class at 7:40. He also lifted weights for two hours each day.
Still, he said the critical part of his training was working with long snapping guru Chris Rubio, whose camps have produced numerous college players. Despite no prior experience, Golub botched only one snap in two years for Newton South.
What happened after the snap was trickier because he could not make tackles.
“I would block and then go down (the field),” he said. “I wouldn’t go all the way down to try to find the ball and tackle the guy, but I would try to hit someone and get someone out and allow other people to make the tackle.”
That aspect could be his biggest hurdle with the Green Wave, but the coaches considered it an issue he could overcome. Recruited by Doug Lichtenberger, a former special teams coordinator who holds the title of assistant athletic director for football operations and recruiting, he chose Tulane over Illinois in March.
“Aaron is a tremendous young man who has not let adversity overcome his desire to fulfill his dreams of playing college football,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “We look forward to having him as a part of our football program.”
Lichtenberger admitted Golub has some significant hurdles in front of him. Primarily, he needs to prove he can be effective after the snap.
“As far as field goal is concerned, all he needs to do is get big and get in somebody’s way,” he said. “I think he has a legitimate shot to be the short snapper. The deep snapping, the punt end of it, that’s going to be the challenge. Will he be able to be a viable option not only as a snapper but a blocker and at least create an obstacle in coverage?”
Long snappers normally only get attention when something goes wrong. Tulane’s Mike Lizanich, who began 2013 in the role, did exactly that when he misfired badly on punt snaps that cost the Wave points, losing his job after a rough day at Syracuse.
Lizanich, a rising sophomore, will get a chance to reclaim his position this fall, with Golub pushing him.
“I’m not going there just to sit back and let him take it,” Golub said. “I’m going to compete for the job. And if he wants it, then I’ll make him work for it.”
Golub plays down his eye issues at every opportunity. He insists the rhythm he has developed through hours and hours of hard work renders his blindness irrelevant on the field.
It has become very relevant nationally. One local story, which he said he agreed to as a “favor to a friend,” multiplied into numerous media outlets requesting interviews and culminated in his “Good Morning America” appearance.
“I never wanted to do any of it,” he said. “It just spread very quickly. I agreed to do ‘Good Morning America’ because it was such a big opportunity to meet Michael Strahan, be able to be flown to New York and everything. But I’ve gotten tired of all of it.”