Johnny Den Bleyker understands the perils and responsibilities of the job. Do it well, and nobody notices. Do it poorly, and everybody notices.
But Den Bleyker, among the top long snappers in the nation, has done his job well enough to be selected to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Den Bleyker received his honorary jersey Tuesday when the Selection Tour presented by American Family Insurance came to Moreau Catholic in Hayward, Calif.
“You don’t want to be noticed as a specialist,” Den Bleyker said. “We have to be 100 percent. In baseball, if you go 3 for 10, that’s a great average. Long snappers, kickers, punters, we have to to be perfect every time because we don’t get that many opportunities.”
Den Bleyker also plays fullback and linebacker for Moreau and had some college interest as a linebacker, but long-snapping is his love. He committed to UCLA in the spring and noted that it’s rare for top programs to come after long snappers so early in the recruiting process.
“I enjoy long snapping and that’s what drove me to pursue it,” he said. “It requires dedication to your craft. It’s like pitching in baseball. Some of it is muscle memory and a lot is focus. It’s one of those positions that will take time to learn. You get better over time. It’s not like one day you go out and become a better long snapper.”
Den Bleyker also has had the benefit of watching and learning from his brother, Alex, who was a three-year starter as the long snapper at Washington State. Johnny started long-snapping when he was 12.
“My brother was a big influence on my long snapping,” he said. “I’ve played football for all my life and I really looked up to my brother. To see him do the camps, I wanted to be like him.”
The long-snapping prowess of several college players led to some viral videos last summer. Most famous among them were from Buffalo’s Corbin Grassman, who knocked a Gatorade bottle off a teammate’s head from across the locker room and then snapped a ball from the third deck of the stadium into a trash can on the field.
Den Bleyker said he hasn’t posted any videos but will mess around when he plays basketball and has snapped the ball into the basket from halfcourt.
As the enormity of being an All-American sunk in Tuesday, Den Bleyker said it was a “surreal feeling.”
“The ceremony was very well done by the team that came out here,” he said. “It was a little bigger than I expected. Being the first All-American for our school, I’ve never been to one of these before.”