That guy over there, off to the side of the Free State High football field, bent over by himself and snapping an imaginary football — don’t worry about him.
His name is Reid Buckingham, and that’s just one of the umpteen long-snapping drills he goes through obsessively, all in the hope of perfecting his craft and scoring an NCAA Division I football scholarship.
The Firebirds’ starting center and long snapper at times uses an actual football, but never makes more than 20 to 30 full-motion long snaps during a workout. Snapping relentlessly, he points out, does no good, because if he gets tired he might pick up bad habits. This is about fine-tuning, like a golfer consumed with swing mechanics.
“It’s all about developing that muscle memory,” he says. “That’s what I really work on.”
The diligent labor began a couple years back, before Buckingham’s sophomore season at FSHS. But the senior says the origins of his special-teams fixation date back to a doctor’s office visit just before the start of his eighth-grade year. Buckingham stood tall, at 6 feet, 2 inches. During his physical, the doctor estimated he would grow to be somewhere in the 6-4 to 6-7 range. So the aspiring college football player started eating more to put on weight. After all, D-I football programs aren’t interested in bean poles protecting their quarterbacks.
A year later, Buckingham went in for another physical. This time, 6-2 didn’t seem so tall. Then came a revised opinion: He wouldn’t grow another inch.
“I was devastated,” the 6-2, 240-pound senior recalled. “I was convinced I was gonna be this mammoth offensive lineman.”
So long, dreams, it seemed. That was until Buckingham got to talking with Kale Joyce, Free State’s punter at the time. Joyce attended special-teams camps and suggested Buckingham seriously pursue long-snapping. The punter told Buckingham if he got good enough at special-teams snaps, like the players Joyce saw at these camps, a D-I scholarship remained a possibility.
So Buckingham gave it a shot. “I wasn’t good by any means,” he says of his initiation, “but I had some natural ability.”
His interest grew from there, and soon after he met Tanner Gibas, then a long-snapper for Kansas. Buckingham worked some with the college specialist, who told him about Chris Rubio, a long-snapping instructor with whom the young Free State lineman would go on to work.
Eventually, in the winter of his sophomore year, Buckingham attended his first camp, where evaluators who chart things such as 15-yard snap times awarded him four out of five stars and named him the No. 3 long snapper in his class. That caught his attention, as did a letter LSU sent him that March. He then knew for sure this was his path to major college football.
Around that time, other FSHS players began to notice Buckingham’s long-snapping efforts. The thing about dedicating himself to something out of the norm, though, was not everyone appreciated the merit of it all. Older players, Buckingham shares, made fun of him “constantly.” One bet him $1,000 he would never long-snap at the college level. He tolerated the jokes, because in the back of his mind he knew the odd-looking drills and niche work would pay off.
“The better I’ve gotten,” Buckingham shares, “people have actually got behind me and supported me with it.”
FSHS coach Bob Lisher agrees with many of the Firebirds now that no one in the area gets the ball back as quickly and accurately as Buckingham.
“Everybody understands that your special teams, your punt team or field goal/P.A.T. team, you kind of take them for granted until something goes wrong,” Lisher says. “We’ve had no bad snaps from him.”
Senior quarterback Joe Dineen says Buckingham probably spends more time snapping than he does throwing. Teammates almost expect to see the lineman at the field or in a gym in his down time, always sharpening his technique. Between field position and extra points, Dineen says they know the value of Buckingham’s skill set.
“You can win or lose a game by a point. If you know you’re gonna get the best ball you can possibly handle it helps,” Dineen says. “It helps to have a guy that works that hard.”
The snapper understands his vocation calls for him to be more reliable sedan than flashy sports car. “It’s a position where perfection is expected,” Buckingham says, “and anything less than perfection is mediocrity.”
Always chasing flawlessness (and a college scholarship), he traveled more than 10,000 miles this summer with his father, Ray, to attend special-teams camps at Arkansas, Baylor, Colorado State, Illinois State, Indiana, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma State, Sam Houston State, Tulsa and Western Illinois. Buckingham even flew out to Los Angeles for Rubio’s Top 12 camp, to which the country’s best long snappers are invited.
While he received positive feedback at every stop, the senior knows the vast majority of long snappers don’t even get offered scholarships or spots with college programs until after signing day, because teams tend to address that need last. Only five of the 191 long snappers listed at chrissailerkicking.com (Buckingham is a 4.5-star recruit ranked No. 21) have committed at this point.
Wishing every day an offer would come tomorrow, Buckingham plays the waiting game and remembers he has standing invitations to attend games this fall at Colorado State, Indiana — the two programs recruiting him hardest — and Tulsa.
All the while, he’ll keep rehearsing for his end goal, and honing the two long snaps Free State will need him to perform this fall — one more appealing than the other.
“If we do have to punt, I’ll be ready,” Buckingham says. “As a center, I hope we don’t punt at all. I hope we score every time and I get 10 P.A.T. snaps and no punt snaps.”