By STEVE CORNELIUS, CJ Sports Editor
In college football, the task of long snapping the ball to the punter almost seems like a simple assignment. So much so, that virtually no one sits around the water cooler on a Monday talking about a great long snap they saw in at Saturday afternoon college football game.
But for former Somerset High School graduate Taylor Speaks, the art of long snapping the football has been his lifetime passion and has led to golden opportunities for the local 19-year-old student-athlete.
This past fall, Taylor Speaks was the starting long snapper for a Division I football program – Eastern Kentucky University.
“Nobody seems to care about long snapping until you see one fly over the punter's head, so every snap involves considerable pressure,” Speaks said.
Taylor Speaks was your typical Somerset High School student-athlete. The yearly change of seasons always meant a change of sports for Speaks, who lettered – and excelled – in football, baseball and basketball as a Briar Jumper.
While a variety of sports consumed his life at a young age, Speaks started to really take an interest in this unique special teams skill during his junior year of high school
“I actually began long snapping in middle school, but I really did not take it seriously until my junior year,” Speaks explained. “Once the guy ahead of me graduated, not only was I responsible for offensive line, but also a significant part of the special teams as well.”
But Speaks did more than just fill the position as the Briar Jumpers’ new long snapper. He did everything in his power to excel at the his new special team position.
“Over the summer I snapped at least thirty balls every day and also worked on various drills that I had been taught at camps throughout the years,” Speaks stated. “I also tried to run and lift at least three days a week.”
Upon graduating from Somerset High School, Speaks signed to play football at Georgetown College.
“Originally I signed with Georgetown College, an outstanding program with a great tradition and was expected to start as the long snapper,” Speaks said.
But an opportunity presented itself to Speaks this past summer that was too good for him to pass up.
“During spring practice Eastern’s long snapper informed Coach (Dean) Hood that he would be transferring to Florida State, and Coach Hood needed to find a replacement,” Speaks said. “He was talking to Coach (Robbie) Lucas one day about next year’s freshman class and the topic of long snapper came up. My name came up, and Coach Hood told Coach Lucas that I could go to Eastern for free and play football.”
“I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Eastern had an interest in me, and I immediately contacted Coach Hood to find out all the details,” Speaks exclaimed. “It was difficult to back out of the commitment I had with Georgetown, but the opportunity to play Division 1 football at no personal expense was too good to pass up. I was blessed with the chance to fulfill a dream that many kids – including myself – have coming out of high school, so I intended to take advantage of it.”
But once Speaks started working out with the Eastern Kentucky University football team, he suddenly went from being just another freshman on the team to a special teams starter.
“When I first arrived at camp I was behind another long snapper that Eastern had previously signed and a guy who played another position,” Speaks explained. “My snap originally had a hitch in it, which led for my time to be much slower than what was expected of me. It took about two weeks to adjust and solidify my snap, and I quickly saw great improvements.”
Slowly I surpassed the guy who played another position, leaving me and the other long snapper,” Speaks continued. “I kept working everyday on my snap (sometimes snapping 100 balls a day) until I could snap the ball quicker than the other guy. This, coupled with my ability to cover the punts better than my competitor, led to me getting the start against Purdue.”
And just like that, Taylor Speaks went from playing at William Clark Field to Roy Kidd Stadium.
“It was an amazing experience getting to play at Roy Kidd Stadium,” Speaks said. “Eastern Kentucky has a great fan base, and it was truly a joy to get to be a part of the team and play in front of the crowd. My first game at Purdue was almost surreal. Not only was it my first start at the collegiate level, but I was also playing in front of the largest crowd I had ever played in front of. I was truly blessed to be able to go around the country and play the best game ever created.”
But with any great dream, comes great sacrifice.
Speaks has had to make the difficult adjustments of balancing the workload of college athletics and college academics. However, Speak credits his former high school in preparing him for the difficult task.
“The transition from a high school athlete to a collegiate one was a little tough,” Speaks admitted. “While I played multiple sports in high school and was used to managing my time, not only did the course load increase but also the amount of time football took up.”
“With over 20 hours devoted to football every week plus 8 hours of mandatory study hall, it was a little bewildering at first,” Speaks added. “Fortunately my time at SHS had adequately prepared me for college life and even though they are more time consuming, the classes have really not been a problem. Once I got used to the demands of football, everything else just fell into place. I would like to thank all my high school teachers who have prepared me so well for this new stage in life.”
Speaks is not one to rest on his laurels, as he is already preparing for next fall.
“My goal next season is to not only start on the punt team, but to also assume the role of field goal snapper,” Speaks stated. “I want to dive into the weight program here at EKU and see what the D-1 lifting schedule can turn my body into.”
Speaks is majoring in History at EKU. Once he finishes college, he plans to attend law school at one of the in-state schools and come back home to practice.