Long snapper keeps eye on the ball, future


Sean Hastings

Redshirt senior AJ Hantak has embraced his long snapping role over his Eastern career. His position sometimes gets overlooked, but having guys look up to him is humbling, he said.

Maria Baldwin, Feature Writer


Timing is everything for redshirt senior long snapper AJ Hantak.

From having only seconds on the field at a time, to making sure his snap is on target and there quickly, time is of the essence for Hantak.

In a position where timing is vital to the success of the football team, Hantak and his special teams unit rely on their trust to get the job done.

“Timing is a big factor that plays into the games, of whether a kick is made or missed or if a punt is blocked or we are able to get it off,” Hantak said. “In games I really don’t get nervous.  I just know I have one job and that I have to do that one job well.  I have a lot of trust in Cody Edwards, who is our holder and punter, so that really helps with making sure everything is smooth.”

Hantak’s trust in Edwards did not start in college. Instead, it started when Hantak and Edwards were in high school, and chose to come to Eastern and continue to work together.

“Playing sports for so long together has made us closer as friends and also has helped being able to trust one another as teammates,” Edwards said. “I trust him to make a good snap and he trusts me to catch it. It’s been a fun five years and we’ve both been through a lot together, such as new coaches, injuries and new punt formations, but it is cool that we both stayed put here at EIU to play our whole college career.”

The trust built among the special teams unit does not stop there. Eastern kicker Matt Severino also has nothing but praise for Hantak and his ability to place the ball with this snaps.

So much can go wrong, in so little time, for a field goal, but Hantak has earned his specialists’ trust that the ball will be where it is supposed to be every time.

The entire process starts with Hantak, and Severino knows just how important it is for Hantak to be successful, in order for himself and his kicks to be successful.

“There are three important aspects of actually making a kick,” Severino said. “The snap, the hold and the kick itself. It starts with AJ, who is one of the best who has ever snapped to me. It’s really mind settling knowing that the ball will be in my holder’s hand every time. He makes

my job easy.”

Severino earned the kicking job earlier this season as a freshman and he has been kicking at ease.

“AJ has always made me see my potential as a player,” Severino said. “He goes out and works hard every practice and with every snap of the football he makes you want to play harder.”

The job is not as easy as Hantak makes it look, though. As in every position, there is a lot of work behind the action that nobody gets to see.

“I get in my own head sometimes,” Hantak said. “When it comes to snapping I try to be as perfect as possible, especially during practice.  Sometimes I will get frustrated at myself if I’m the slightest bit off on my location or spiral.  To anyone that doesn’t know much about snap

ping they may see what I would consider to be a bad snap, as a good one.”

The frustration allowed Hantak to stay motivated in the off-season, continuing to improve and become better at his craft.

“I spent two months of the summer last year watching film of my snaps trying to find a consistent number of rotations that the ball makes on its way back to the punter and holder,” Hantak said. “I don’t change anything with the mechanics of my snap but I know that my rotation is a half spin for every yard. So with this, I can position our holder on field goals in order to ensure the laces are out almost every time.”

For Hantak, being able to silently lead the Eastern football team is a humbling experience, especially since he is not playing in a glamorized position.

“Being a leader is very important to me,” Hantak said. “Being one of the few guys on the team that has been here five years and in a position that doesn’t see a lot of recognition, it’s humbling to me to have some of the younger guys look up to me.”

Not only does Hantak look to motivate his teammates and lead them by example on the field, but he also looks to the future of Eastern’s special teams unit, and his teammates’ work in the classroom.

“Even if the impact is small and may be just in the special teams unit for the future, I just want to finish my career here knowing that I left it in a better place than what it was when I got here,” Hantak said. “Not only on the field, but it is important to me to have an impact

off the field and in the classroom and I

hope I have accomplished this as well.”

Just as it is in the game, the time players have on the field is limited.

When they get their “true” practice in is when the rest of the Panthers are in positional meetings.

“Since you need a lot of space to kick and everything, this is the only time we have the entire field to work on things so we try to utilize it the best we can,” Hantak said.

As for now, as a fifth year senior and a leader on Eastern’s football team, Hantak wishes to continue to pursue a career, doing what he does best, putting himself in the best position possible to further his career into the NFL.

Maria Baldwin can be reached at [email protected] or 581-2812