NEW CANAAN — Brian Keating’s commitment to achieving a lifelong dream was best evidenced on the day after Thanksgiving in 2014. The Darien football team had defeated New Canaan for the FCIAC championship the previous day, but the Blue Wave’s long snapper on special teams, George Reed, playing with a torn ACL, had to remove himself from the unit. Later in the game, Darien had a punt blocked.
“The next morning we go to break down film at 7 a.m. We gave the kids the day off and BK’s out there long snapping,” recalled Darien coach Rob Trifone, referring to Keating. “He was determined to help the team, which is the kind of kid he is, and win that spot. Which he did.”
Keating was the long snapper in the two state playoff games and all of last season, as well as the starting center as the Blue Wave won league and state championships to complete an undefeated season.
Keating’s dedication not only earned him a starting position; he has just started to receive recruiting offers as he prepares for his senior year. UConn and Bryant have promised preferred walk-on spots, while Syracuse, Maryland and Temple are among the schools that have expressed interest.
“My sophomore year, when I started playing varsity, I really took it seriously,” Keating said. “First to get on the field. I always wanted to play on the high school team. And then I saw I could really play in college.”
While long snapping seems like a mundane and thankless job, just watch how NFL teams scan the waiver wire for specialists when their starters get injured. Keating said he has grown to love what could be the most thankless position on a football field. Keating’s father played the position in New Canaan’s youth leagues.
“My freshman year there was no long snapper and my father taught me, and that’s what got me into it,” Keating said. “Long snapping at first I thought was weird, but over the years it is one of my favorite things to do. I still enjoy going outside and snapping with my dad. It’s just a fun position.
Keating and Trifone agreed long snapping is similar to the FOGO position in lacrosse, where a player’s responsibility is to win faceoffs before leaving the field.
“That’s your one job on the team, but if you do your job right you will be appreciated by everyone and if you don’t do your job right then you’re going to get fired and no one is going to like you,” Keating said with a smile.
While athletes in all sports use the offseason to hone their skills, Keating has traveled around the country to Chris Rubio Long Snapping Camps. Rubio, who played the position at UCLA, is considered the guru of long snapping and has teamed up with his college teammate, kicker Chris Sailer.
“It’s not easy to develop because it takes time,” Trifone said. “He’s self made. I take absolutely no credit for anything that kid has done because he has done it on his own. He’s been to these Rubio camps. He’s a wonderful young man too, I enjoy coaching him. He’s a got a strong upper body and strong legs and it takes some power to do it, but it is not a physical thing it’s a mental thing.”
Keating said there is a quick transition from playing center to long snapping. He explained the thought process:
“Fourth down the punt team comes out onto the field and the ref puts the ball down,” Keating said. “The first thing I do is address the other side of the field. I see the punt block and which guy I am going to have to protect. When I get in my position I make sure my feet are a little wider than a shoulder width apart and I look back through my legs and see my punter and we each give each other a thumbs up. Then I get down, take a little practice snap, get as low as possible, back flat and just whip it back there.
“That’s your one job on the team, but if you do your job right you will be appreciated by everyone and if you don’t do your job right then you’re going to get fired and no one is going to like you.”
“When you are playing center you are focused on putting your guy on the ground and going 110 percent,” Keating added. “But when you are long snapping your objective is to snap the ball and put it in a good position for the punter.”
Offensive line is one area where the Blue Wave will have returning starters next year and should be a strength. And Keating is excited that his original blueprint likely will lead to the desired outcome.
“I want to go somewhere where I could play at a high level athletically and set myself up academically, where I can set myself up for a good life ahead,” Keating said. “It’s given me an opportunity to accomplish a lifetime dream which is to play college football. Obviously I couldn’t go there to play center or linebacker because I’m not big enough or skilled enough, but long snapper, it is my key to go play at the next level.”