Unusual path leads Haynes to Ohio State
February 8, 2011
By Jared Putnam
Like many high school athletes, Bryce Haynes wanted to land a Division I college football scholarship.
The problem, as he realized, was that he would never be good enough to earn one at the positions he played.
That self-critique started Haynes on a path that sent his recruiting stock spiraling upward almost as fast as the spirals he now delivers on special teams.
In less than a year, Haynes has gone from being an unknown player learning an under-appreciated position — to the most heavily recruited long snapper in the nation.
The specialist made history when he chose Ohio State last week, accepting the first scholarship the Big Ten powerhouse had offered to a high school long snapper.
“It’s been an amazing process,” Haynes said.
“I definitely think it turned a lot of heads when people figured out that Ohio State had offered a long snapper.”
Haynes received rock star treatment at Pinecrest Academy on national signing day Wednesday, when he became the first Paladin to sign with a football program above Division III.
He said he hopes the national publicity he’s received will benefit other long snappers, a position Division I schools often fill through a walk-on role.
Just don’t expect Haynes’ particular story to be duplicated anytime soon.
Two years ago, Haynes wasn’t even the starting long snapper for Pinecrest, a private Catholic school with a high school enrollment of 210 students.
The rising junior had not lined up at that position in a game since eighth grade, and the most tutoring he’d ever received in snapping came via an instructional DVD.
He had spent his freshman and sophomore seasons on the varsity team at defensive end and wide receiver, positions typically more suited for players with his 6-foot-4, 185-pound frame.
Though he was a well-rounded, three-sport athlete, Haynes began to understand he didn’t have all the physical gifts necessary to compete in either of those roles at the highest level of college football.
He started envisioning a new future for himself during a receivers camp at the University of Georgia in summer 2009, after his sophomore year.
While participating in long snapper drills merely as a side activity, Haynes received enough praise from a camp instructor to gain some confidence.
“It was enough to get the ball rolling,” he said. “I wasn’t really focused on snapping until then.
“I kind of realized that there was a lot better chance that I could go to one of the [Division I] schools that I wanted to and long snap, as opposed to going to a smaller D-II or D-III school and playing defensive end or receiver.”
Pinecrest coach Charles Wiggins made Haynes the long snapper for the Paladins that fall, though only in punting situations, not on field goals.
The junior then got the attention of his own father, Billy Haynes, when he agreed to catch one of his son’s snaps after a team practice.
“He snapped that ball back and about broke my finger,” Billy Haynes said. “I said, ‘Son, you’ve got a talent.’”
Once the season ended, Billy Haynes began searching for ways to get his son specialized training. That led him to Chris Rubio, a former UCLA long snapper and professional instructor billed as “the nation’s leading authority” at the position.
Rubio conducted long snapper camps across the country and was scheduled to hold one at Collins Hill High School in Suwanee a short time later.
Bryce Haynes attended that camp, but both he and his father came away disheartened by the much more seasoned long snappers in attendance.
Haynes spent winter and spring of 2010 practicing snaps with best friend and teammate Joe Neiner as much as possible, even though they both played basketball and competed in track during those months.
As he snapped after those practices — often 200 times a day, six days a week — he began to see that the brief instruction he received from Rubio was drastically improving his skill.
By the time Haynes traveled to Rubio’s Las Vegas competition in May, he was good enough to battle through a case of the shingles and earn a spot in a select group invited to return for the instructor’s premier camp in July.
Between those competitions, Haynes went on to be the top-rated long snapper at six separate camps held at major colleges across the Southeast, including UGA, Alabama and Florida.
He doesn’t think he would be where he is today if not for his 82-year-old grandfather — also named Bryce Haynes — who took him to many of those competitions when his parents could not.
The Haynes’ travels paid off in a big way once Bryce put his talents back on display for Rubio in July, as the instructor named him the No. 1 long snapper in the nation.
“When you watch him snap, it looks very smooth and effortless,” Rubio said. “All of a sudden, the ball is in your face in 0.65 seconds.”
Four months later, the University of North Carolina gave Haynes his first football scholarship offer. It was Nov. 8, his father Billy’s birthday.
Utah State, Arkansas, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Michigan State followed suit. Haynes’ 3.9 grade-point average even led to a late offer from Harvard.
Rubio said that Haynes’ talent, his ability to resist the urge to commit early, and the power of social media helped fuel a never before seen recruiting frenzy for a long snapper.
“It almost became like this reality TV show, The World of Bryce,” Rubio said.
“To find a kid that can snap, block, run, and is smart, that’s like finding a unicorn.”
Once Haynes narrowed his choices to Ohio State and Notre Dame, all signs indicated that he would fulfill his longtime “dream” to become part of the Fighting Irish.
But dreams change.
Two days after Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel flew to Georgia and spent time with Haynes at both his school and home, the long snapper committed to the Buckeyes — surprising even his family with the decision.
“After I could kind of get past letting Notre Dame go, Ohio State just kind of felt like home,” Haynes said.
“I knew I was important to [Ohio State] because they’d offered me, but I didn’t know I was that important for Coach Tressel to come down to Georgia just to see me.”
Haynes said the coach has told him he’ll be given every opportunity to win the starting long snapper job for the Buckeyes in the fall, as the team tries to replace Jake McQuaide, a three-year starter who is graduating this spring.
In less than a year, Haynes could go from a Class A high school team to starting on an Ohio State squad that will be gunning for its seventh straight Big Ten title.
Haynes isn’t worried. He believes the transition will be easier for a long snapper than many other positions on the field.
“The great thing about long snapping is that you start the play,” he said.
“It’s definitely going to be a huge jump, but I’m hopeful that it can happen.”
There’s little reason to doubt him.
He’s already proven he can make big strides in a short amount of time.
In fact, Haynes makes it look like a snap.