Starkville High School senior Mark Coblentz knows praise for his position on the football field works a little differently.
“As a long snapper, the best compliment someone can give you is, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were on the team,’” Coblentz said.
Typically, when a long snapper’s name is uttered, it’s for a bad play — a low snap leading to a blocked kick; a snap over the punter’s head for a costly fumble.
Starkville public address announcer Sammy Shumaker would call out Coblentz’s name along with that of the kicker and holder on field goals, but it was about the only time Coblentz wanted his name out there.
It’s that unusual philosophy that has led Coblentz to success at an unheralded position. The senior is ranked the No. 99 long snapper in the Class of 2021 by Chris Rubio, who evaluates the position professionally.
But unlike at most spots on the field, a top-100 long snapper is hardly guaranteed a scholarship at a competitive school.
“That’s something more commonly that they earn later in their college career, especially if they’re consistently starting or they’re doing good both on and off the field,” Coblentz said.
In Rubio’s rankings, only four snappers boast a perfect six-star rating, which signifies a freshman-year starter at any school, a scholarship pick and a likely all-conference selection. They’re headed to Florida, Auburn, Oregon and Georgia.
Twenty-six more players have a 5-star rating, meaning they’ll likely be scholarship players at FBS schools. Coblentz is a tier below at 4.5 stars, which in Rubio’s system signifies a definite FCS starter and either a scholarship pick or preferred walk-on at the FBS level.
Coblentz currently holds an offer to snap for Holmes Community College, which came about when Bulldogs special teams coordinator Dylan Swarers reached out to Rubio looking for a long snapper in Mississippi. Swarers texted Coblentz the next morning and offered him that evening.
The senior also received an offer to play for Division III Millsaps College in Jackson. As a D-III school, Millsaps can’t give athletic scholarships but can offer academic ones.
But Coblentz has his heart set on another, perhaps more difficult route: walking on and snapping for a different set of Bulldogs right there in his hometown.
“My goal and dream has always been to play for Mississippi State,” he said.
On April 7, he talked with Mississippi State coach Mike Leach, discussing possible walk-on tryouts down the road once recruiting restrictions ease, particularly the NCAA’s dead period, which is set to end June 1.
If Coblentz can earn a spot with the Bulldogs, it will be fitting after growing up in Starkville. He said his family has a picture of him as a toddler dressed up in full maroon and white gear along with his brother in front of the Christmas tree.
Of course, Coblentz hasn’t known since that long-ago photo where on the field he wanted to line up. He started as a center when he began playing football at age 9.
But during spring ball at the end of his freshman year with the Yellow Jackets, Coblentz — then standing all of 5-foot-4 and weighing less than 140 pounds — found himself quite literally outmatched by the behemoths lining up across from him.
“We had two or three Division I defensive linemen on the team at the time, so there was no way I was going to play center,” he said.
He began to try out long snapping, learning from kicker Garin Boniol, now at Louisiana Tech, and current East Mississippi Community College linebacker Ty Johnson. Without official instruction, though, he had little sense of form or technique and was less consistent than he hoped.
Still, it was a chance for Coblentz to continue in the sport he loved. As a sophomore, he served as the backup to a senior, managing to snap in eight of the Jackets’ games.
“Basically it came down to, if I wanted to keep playing football, I had better learn how to long snap,” he said. “I found it as a good way to get on the field.”
After that sophomore season, Coblentz redoubled his efforts to improve. In the next two months, he snapped 300 to 500 balls a week in his backyard, peering backward to watch each one’s trajectory. A couple Rubio camps helped out with the fundamentals, too.
By his junior year, Coblentz was much more consistent, although his speed wasn’t where he hoped. But he had new things to contend with: blocking assignments that came along with his position. He’d have to read the defensive line and move to his left or right to pick up a gap and block a lineman from plowing through and blowing up a play, a big change from snapping from a standstill in the yard.
The following offseason, Coblentz continued to improve. He cured his biggest problems, which were failing to keep his back flat and forgetting to get his head and eyes through the play. Starting as a senior, he delivered a consistent ball with good placement and good speed.
Still, he had dreams of hearing his name called — in another place on the field. In his first-ever start as a sophomore, the Yellow Jackets were up big against Columbus late in the contest. Coblentz convinced Starkville coach Chris Jones to let him enter the game at wideout, and he took an admittedly “terrible” stance — a mix between a lineman and a receiver.
“I didn’t get the ball, but it was fun to line up at a different position,” he said.
He didn’t hear Shumaker belt out his name after all. Now, as he prepares to continue his career in college, it’s the last thing he wants.
“I’ve always been told, ‘As long as we don’t hear your name, you did a good job,” Coblentz said.