For Eueka (Mo.) High School's Zach Hirth, long snapping started out simply as something else to do on the football field. He never figured it someday would make him an All-American.
As Hirth received his Under Armour All-American jersey Monday afternoon at Eureka High School, he reflected on his life as a football player. It occurred to Hirth that by perfecting something others didn't want to learn, he'd be showcased playing with and against some of the best players in the country on Jan. 5 in St. Petersburg, Fla. It was part of the 80-stop American Family Insurance presents the Under Armour All-America Game selection tour.
"I was real excited when I found out about everything. I didn't believe it at first," Hirth said. "It's just a great honor to play with all the top athletes in the nation."
More than just a snapper
On a regular football play, Hirth is a 6-foot-3, 225-pound defensive end who rotates within a unit of about six defensive linemen. When Eureka encounters fourth down, they look to him to deliver a perfectly snapped ball to their punter -- a task he never has a problem completing.
"In high school, special teams is about 25 percent of the game, so what he does is very important," Eureka coach Farrell Shelton said. "I know D-I coaches don't have to worry about it as much, but as a high school coach, not having to worry about that snap is a huge relief."
Shelton then added: "He's not just a deep snapper to us. He's a football player."
Hirth said he first started long snapping when he played in the junior leagues, trying it because nobody else wanted that responsibility. Hirth said he and his father worked on long snapping as he grew up, and he began honing his skills at camps around the country. Hirth's popularity blossomed with his efforts throughout the Kohl's Professional Camps series, and he was the top snapper at the National Invitational Scholarship Camp in Whitewater, Wisc., over the summer.
Hirth, according to the Kohl's rankings, is the nation's No. 1 long snapper in the Class of 2012. Multiple times, Hirth left a camp with either a challenge award or overall top honors as the most outstanding snapper.
"As far as the tools go, he's got everything," said Kevin Garviolle, lead snapping coach at Kohl's and someone who has trained multiple BCS snappers. "He's got great, long levers that support his ability to snap with great velocity. In my eyes, the thing that separates him from others is his competitiveness. He does what it takes to get himself to the top."
Hirth's player video on the Kohl's web site is proof of his abilities. From 15 yards out, Hirth was money on several attempts. Every snap looked identical. Additionally, the camps helped Hirth not only snap but react after the snap. He's a sound blocker who has the athleticism to cover punts effectively.
"He knows nowadays in college, you have to snap, block and tackle," Shelton said. "No longer are there just snappers anymore, and he gets that. We have one of the best in the nation, and we know that teams won't get to our punter up the middle."
Hirth's responsibilities often go unnoticed, which is not necessarily a negative. If a snapper is successfully doing his job, he's rarely mentioned. If a snapper has a bad game, everybody notices.
Fortunately for Hirth, bad games are almost nonexistent.
"With him, he only gets a few opportunities to make the snap," Garviolle said. "It's not like a quarterback, where he can throw an interception in the first half and have 30 or 40 more opportunities to make up for it. You have a bad snap in the first quarter, and that can be the difference in winning and losing a ball game."
Competitive and college-ready
With the Under Armour All-American jersey now in possession, only two things remain for Hirth -- the quest of a state football championship and solidifying a scholarship..
In regards to college, Hirth is receiving heavy interest from several big-name schools.
"I've heard from Michigan, Northwestern, Alabama and Purdue," Hirth said. "No offers yet, but we'll see how things go."
Shelton said whoever signs Hirth will get someone who leads by example, someone who puts in long hours to be as close to perfection as possible. Shelton described Hirth as a genuine kid who is well-respected on the team and someone who understands that his services as a long snapper should make for a wise investment.
"I don't really know how recruiting for a long snapper goes," Shelton said, "but I know him, and what he's become. He's worked hard and has matured into becoming a great young man."
Garviolle said Hirth has the potential to earn a starting job instantly once a team takes a chance on him. Hirth reminds Garviolle of Nebraska long snapper P.J. Mangieri with his athleticism, overall confidence in the position and competitive nature.
"The university that picks him up is going to get a steal," Garviolle said.
Damon Sayles covers recruiting in the Midlands for ESPN Recruiting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.