Nov. 1, 2012
By Rich Hidy
It is arguably the most technically precise position on the football field. On every play, week after week, the position must be played to perfection. One mistake can cost the team points and quite possibly the game.
Quarterback? Running back?
Of course, we must be talking about linebacker or cornerback, right?
Still no. We are talking about the long snapper. Yes, the long snapper.
Senior Jordan Cowart mans this unrecognized, but critical spot for the Irish. The sociology major from Plantation, Fla., has been a consistent contributor for the University of Notre Dame football team throughout his four-year career.
Cowart has played in 39 career games, serving as the starting long snapper in every contest as a freshman and sophomore in 2009 and 2010. Cowart then played in nine games in 2011, snapping for punts and field goals, before missing four games with a hand injury.
Now, in the midst of Notre Dame's best season in a decade, Cowart is once again handling the snapping duties as smoothly as possible.
How smoothly? The Irish (everyone cross their fingers please) have not had a punt blocked since 2008 -- a year before Cowart arrived on the Notre Dame campus.
Cowart came out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., ranked as the 66th-best athlete in the country according to ESPN.com. He played long snapper and helped the squad to a pair of state championships.
Cowart did not play organized football until high school, and his only football experience whatsoever came in middle school and it was flag football.
"I was doing some training going into high school and one of my friends asked me if I wanted to try long snapping," Cowart says. "I would go out a couple of times a week to work on tight end and linebacker drills, and at the end of each session we did about 10 snaps. I ended up getting much better at it."
Cowart committed himself to the special teams position and perfected his craft. He put in the necessary work and ultimately decided to continue his career at Notre Dame in part due to his affinity with Catholic institutions.
"I have always gone to a Catholic school and they share the same values," Cowart says. "When Notre Dame showed interest, I knew that this was the place for me."
Cowart was recruited by former head coach Charlie Weis and his staff, and the transition between Weis and current head coach Brian Kelly was initially challenging.
"It was tough in the sense that the recruiting process was a chance for me to build relationships with those coaches and I had to go through that process all over again. I had to start from square one."
Cowart had to grow familiar with a new head coach, as well as a new position coach, and all in the midst of understanding an entirely new scheme. He says all that is starting to manifest itself in the play on the field this season.
Cowart says, "We are starting to see everything click between the players and coaching staff. The trust and friendships have been built. The players continue to develop the team unity and everything seems to be coming together."
The long snapper enjoys his teammates, especially the players he lines up with during punt and field-goal formations.
"I like special teams," Cowart says. "The special teams players are all close and make it an enjoyable experience."
His main goal is to be consistent every week. Cowart also understands how special it is to wear the gold helmet and slap the "Play Like a Champion" sign.
"There is so much tradition here that it took me a while to get used to it," Cowart says. "With the fans and alumni, along with the students, I took a step back this year and realized how special a place this is. It's really nice to be a part of Notre Dame football."
Being a member of the Notre Dame football program isn't always a cakewalk, as Cowart and the other Irish players have to manage their time between rigorous course work and preparation for Saturday's games. Practice eats up a great deal of his time, and learning how to organize free time was a process that Cowart had to learn throughout his four years as a Notre Dame student-athlete.
"It is tough," Cowart says. "I get to the Guglielmino Athletic Complex at 1:45 p.m. and don't leave until 6:30 p.m. I have to make sure that I take care of my academics at night. I've figured out the appropriate balance because I've done quite well lately."
Many players often say the best part about being a Notre Dame football player is the memories that are built throughout a career. Cowart holds a number of memories dear to his heart, but one that will forever remain close was his return to Florida for the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State.
"Playing in that bowl game last year and being back in South Florida, where I am from, was great," Cowart says. "A lot of my family members got to attend the game. It was an enjoyable experience to be close to home and know that those people were watching."
Cowart will graduate in May 2013 with a degree in sociology from the College of Arts and Letters, but he has a goal to take another step along his football journey and become a long snapper in the National Football League.
"After I graduate, it would be nice to continue my football career," Cowart says. "Everyone who plays college football wants to take that next step, but if it doesn't work out, I want to attend law school."
For now, Cowart is enjoying this season and hopes to finish out his career with a victory in a Bowl Championship Series game.
And, maybe, he'll get recognized along the way.