When Ole Miss athletic directer Keith Carter announced in December that he had hired Lane Kiffin as the school’s next head football coach, the incoming 44-year-old had to take a swift approach to filling out a new staff and hitting the recruiting trail.
Kiffin hired a strong staff of proven football minds from all over the country, and brought in former Texas Longhorn safety, and Houston Cougars special teams coach Blake Gideon to fill the same role as a Rebel. From day one, Gideon made his presence felt.
On February 12, he landed a commitment from long snapper John Bergeron. At 6-foot, 210 pounds, the Covington, La. native comes to Oxford with a 4.0 GPA, a love for legal discourse and a 4.5-star rating at the most unique position in football.
The long snapper is a special teams player whose sole job is to snap the ball over a longer distance than under center or in the shotgun, typically around 15 yards during punts, and eight yards during field goals and extra point attempts. The pressure is immense. If the snap goes wrong, the play goes wrong.
I got on the phone with Bergeron earlier this week to discuss his recruitment to Ole Miss, the dichotomy of being the most replaceable and the least replaceable player in the game, how he approaches the art of snapping, and what he does beyond the field.
My questions are in bold.
First off, how does one even begin to get into long snapping?
The entire time I was playing peewee football, I played center. My dad recognized very early on in high school that I didn’t have the size to play offensive line if I wanted to play collegiately and suggested long snapping. We found Rubio Long Snapping, I went to one of his camps and it was then that I decided to dedicate myself to the craft.
What are the skills you need to be a college-level long snapper?
It starts and ends with form. From there, it’s flexibility and speed. But the big thing is mentality and that’s one of the things Rubio focuses on. It’s important to be conditioned for the mental pressure of snapping a ball in front of, say, 100,000 people.
Who are some of your mentors and guys you look up to at the position?
I live an hour from both New Orleans and Baton Rouge, so I had a lot of one-on-one time with Blake Ferguson and Geron Eatherly, the long snappers for LSU and Tulane.
Every weekend I would switch who I go to, practice with them, hang out with them and get some tips. In the NFL, I like Reid Ferguson of the Bills and Zach Wood of the Saints.
Is the recruiting process different as a special teamer? What goes into being seen?
It’s a lot of personal work, like having the right tape and strong academics. About two or three months ago, I sent an email to every single Power 5 Conference school’s special teams coach with film.
When Ole Miss brought in the new coaching staff, one of the biggest selling points was that I nearly had a full academic scholarship, so they wouldn’t have to worry about me in the classroom— and I can compete at a high level on the field.
Can you talk to me about how Ole Miss came on to your radar?
I got an offer from Tulane over the summer and that’s where I thought I was going to go. I kept my recruitment open and I received offers from smaller schools and FCS programs, but I wanted to play in the SEC or Power 5 in general. In January, the Kansas [special teams] coach reached out and I was pretty much set to go there. A couple of weeks later coach Gideon hit me back on Twitter and was immediately interested. If he would have me, which he did, that’s where I wanted to be.
What does practice look like for a long snapper?
Beyond special teams periods, it is a lot of stretching and getting warmed up. You don’t want to over-snap, because if you’re doing upwards of 50/60 snaps a day, your muscles will get tired. If you over-snap, when you get to the team period, you’ll look bad.
You put a lot of emphasis on being loose... Take me through your warmup routine.
When it’s like 30 minutes to 45 minutes before the team period, you start to get ready. I start with throwing a few balls to get my shoulders loose and doing slow motion snaps at five yards, and then I back it up and increase the speed.
Once you’re game-ready, is there a trick to staying warm?
I’ll put a timer in my head and run over to the punter every few minutes, snap a ball and then run back to the sidelines. Something I do now is have my dad pretend that he’s the punter and I’ll go across the street. I’ll pretend it’s 4th-and-10 and I’ll sprint across, snap a ball and then run down and cover. A lot of it is mentality, staying stretched and staying focused.
What do you do outside of football?
I do debate. Actually, my partner and I got pretty close to winning the state championship.
That ties into what I want to study, and I am going to try the accelerated law program at Ole Miss, or major in political science and then go to law school. Beyond that I ride my bike, watch TV, and I love to read.
Favorite TV shows?
Game of Thrones (Seasons 1-6), Clone Wars, Attack on Titan, Hunter x Hunter.
Red Rising, Dune, Berserk.
Being from Covington, is it all New Orleans sports all the time?
Yep. My family has both Saints tickets and Pelicans tickets.
You can only eat one thing for the rest of your life. What’s your meal of choice?
Do you have a certain type (artist/band/song) of music that you listen to before a game?
If it’s five minutes out, probably some rap. But if it’s before then, it would be TOOL.
If you’re eating a hot dog, what condiments do you put on it?
Chili and cheese. That’s it.
And now the most important question. Is a hot dog a sandwich?
By definition, a hot dog is a sandwich because it is an item of food with two pieces of bread that are folded over it, and you have meat, cheese and stuff in there. It is in fact a sandwich.