09/03/04 — For Warren, life is just one long snap

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For Warren, life is just one long snap

By David Williams
Published in Sports on September 3, 2004 2:02 PM

There is a lot of question about when life actually begins. While we will leave that for others to ponder, there is no doubt where a football game begins -- with the snap of the ball.

The center has to fire the ball between his legs to the quarterback and stand off an onrushing nose guard or tackle trying to outman him in a gap. And he has to repeat the procedure -- cleanly -- on every down.

It's a specialty. And the most special variety of this specialty is the long snapper.

He has to do everything the regular center does -- except he has to snap the ball some 15 yards behind him with enough force and accuracy to safely deliver the pigskin in less than a second. And all of that is happening while the aforementioned defenders are trying to knock you down or run over you.

Every punt, every extra point, every field goal -- all of those plays begins with the long snapper.

Greg Warren has been the long snapper for the University of North Carolina for the past three seasons, and he begins his fourth and final year as one of the Tar Heels' most consistent special teams players.

He's had quite a history -- although you may not have noticed him.

Warren was the snapper when David Wooldridge boomed a 61-yard punt against Florida State last season. He was the snapper when Dan Orner nailed a 50-yard field goal against Arizona State last year. And Warren snapped the ball on Orner's game-winning 47-yard field goal that beat Duke 23-21 back in 2002.

With Warren at center, Carolina has not had a punt blocked since that Duke game. Warren snapped a ball out of the end zone for a safety against Wake Forest back in 2001 -- and that was the last time the Tar Heels have given up a two-point safety.

Now, as a fifth-year senior, Warren is still working on being a better player.

"One of the big things (to work on) was my coverage," Warren said. "My snaps were really good last year and everything, but I wanted to improve my coverage and the number of tackles that I have. That's one of the big things they look at in the league now."

His reference to "the league" reminds us that Warren has a realistic chance to take his unusual talents to the NFL. He has been told he lines up as a mid-sixth or seventh-round selection right now, and scouts like his speed for a big man.

"A lot of the guys that come around to look at me mention my size -- not that I'm huge," Warren said. "But I'm around 250 now, and I run a lot better then some of the guys in the league because they are about 290. I'm a little more agile than some of them.

"They are looking more for coverage guys. They still want the accuracy, but the big thing is they look for is guys that can help out in coverage."

Warren snap speed -- the time it takes for him to snap a ball until it reaches the hands of the punter of kick holder -- is seven-tenths of a second. He said the NFL considers eight-tenths of a second as very good.

Warren developed his talent for consistent snapping the old-fashioned way.

"I've got to where I can do it because I've done it so much," he said. " You've got to do tons and tons of reps to get to where you are really accurate time after time -- especially when you have to get back in protection. That's really hard, to get back after the snap and stay really consistent. Usually I aim right around the stomach, that's about where they want it."

Warren has a solid reputation as a hard worker. He holds school records for special teams players in the long jump (nine feet, 3 1/2 inches), the squat (500 pounds), the power clean (364 pounds) and the bench press (360). He has earned the highly sought-after "Elite Ram" status in the Tar Heel weight room.

He said the biggest difference in the Tar Heels this is the positive attitude that has taken over the team.

In the past couple of years, there have been guys here -- they aren't here now -- that were just negative no matter what you said or did to try and help them out," Warren said. "That just spread around here. If people have positive attitudes, that spreads, but if you have a negative attitude, that spreads, too. We've got it now where everybody is upbeat, everybody is going for the same goal, everybody believes in the system and the coaches. Everybody is motivated.

"All of us are on the same page. It's all about that -- every bit of it."

Warren will complete his master's degree this spring, and -- NFL opportunities aside -- he wants to teach science in high school. He also wants to coach, as his father -- Southern Wayne head football coach Bob Warren -- is doing.

"I really want to coach. That's one of my primary goals." Warren said.

But would Warren rather coach alongside his father -- or against him?

"I'd rather coach alongside of him," Said the younger Warren. "But by the time I ever get to it, he'll be sitting on the side of a lake somewhere, relaxing."