Mitch Hall was like a lot of small boys when he dreamed of playing big-time football someday.
What he couldn’t have foreseen was what his role would be. But an injury seemed to make the decision for him.
Six seasons ago, he was in preseason workouts for the middle-school team at Friendship Christian when it happened.
“It was a freak accident,” explained Hall, who is now the highly recruited senior long snapper for Clayton. “I was at center, and I broke my right hand three days before our first game. I still wanted to play, so I taught myself how to snap left-handed.
“My coach said, ‘We’ll put both of them together and long-snap.’ And I thought, ‘If it’s playing time in high school, why not?’ ”
Hall, a former lacrosse player who transferred to Clayton before his sophomore season, decided to concentrate on becoming one of the best long snappers around. And the decision is definitely paying off for him and the Comets.
He already has scholarship offers — a rarity for snappers, most get to college as walk-ons — from Memphis and from Pima (Ariz.) C.C., along with heavy interest from at least five other FBS programs. In July, he won a competition in Rock Hill, S.C., and thus a roster spot for the East team in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl — one of the most star-studded high school all-star games annually — on Jan. 7 in San Antonio.
A former middle linebacker who was a captain of the Comets’ JV teams in 2013 and 2014, he now concentrates on just the one position. Clayton’s new coach, Hunter Jenks, is fine with that.
“He’s really willing to work with the younger kids, and that speaks highly of his character,” said Jenks, who was previously the head coach at South Johnston. “But his talent on the field, being named Army All-American speaks for itself.
“We’re putting a lot of emphasis on special teams, and it feels good knowing the snap is going to be there every time, and we don’t have to worry about it.”
Hall, who began training with Rubio Long Snapping five seasons ago, said he was usually the youngest competitor at university long-snapping camps. He has won major honors at the camps at Alabama, Auburn, Miami, Coastal Carolina and Liberty.
“Mitch’s form is excellent, and he is becoming smoother and smoother as time progresses,” said Chris Rubio, who travels the country for private instruction sessions. “He’s a machine and is ready for the next level right now.”
And Hall said he knows the only way he can be a total success is to be perfect.
A quarterback can complete 50 or 60 percent of his passes and have a great game. As a snapper if you don’t go 100 percent in a game — if you’re in the NFL, you’re fired. There goes your job.
Mitch Hall, Clayton High long snapper and U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection
“It’s a mind game,” Hall said. “A quarterback can complete 50 or 60 percent of his passes and have a great game. As a snapper if you don’t go 100 percent in a game — if you’re in the NFL, you’re fired. There goes your job.
“To judge a good long-snapper they look for speed, consistency and spiral because it looks pretty. If you don’t know anything about it and you see a duck it doesn’t look good. And recruiters look for agility and athleticism. Mentality and confidence. If you’re not confident in your snap you’re going to mess up.”
And it helps to have a great holder, he said.
“My holder is (senior tight end) Josh Tutt, and we know exactly what we’re supposed to do together,” Hall said. “You want the laces to be out every time on a PAT or field-goal snap. So if you have the same holder over and over again, you get in a groove and know how to snap and where to snap.
“We usually do about 10 to 15 reps on the field and then work with the kickers who play soccer. But it’s always important not to get fatigued. We do maybe 50-60 snaps a day, and then there are exercises I can do at home inside without a football.
“So I do a lot of them during commercials.”
Snapping itself may not be glamorous, but sometimes snappers do get to make big plays once a punt is away.
“My biggest in-game moment was the first time we played Garner, in my first start,” said Hall, a 4.0 student who wants to major in kinesiology in college. “I snapped the ball, went down the field and tackled Nyheim Hines (who is now playing at N.C. State). He was so fast. I touched him and turned around and he was about 5 yards the other way.
“But he was running around everybody else and came back to me. It made me look good, anyway. I got to tackle one of the best players I ever played against.”