When Jake McQuaide first walked on to the Ohio State football team out of Cincinnati’s Elder High School in 2006, he and his friends joked that he would one day play in the NFL. At the time, however, McQuaide didn’t actually think that was a real possibility.
McQuaide had good reason not to have his hopes up. While hundreds of long snappers walk on to college teams every year, there are only 32 full-time jobs for long snappers in the NFL – and typically, only a few of those jobs open up to new players each year.
Once he became Ohio State’s starting long snapper in 2008 and saw many of his Buckeyes teammates getting their own opportunities to play in the NFL, though, that dream started to become a bit more real.
“It’s so far-fetched, and so stupid, to even think that would ever be an option,” McQuaide recalled of his high school NFL dreams in an interview with Eleven Warriors this week. “But once I got to Ohio State, it was kind of like, the guys that we had, it was just like ‘Well, if you’re a starter, you play in the NFL.’ Every single guy that we had would just go to the league. So once I became a starter, it was like, ‘Well, this is a real thing now. This isn’t a joke anymore, this is actually possible.’”
Now, McQuaide is set to complete his eighth season as the long snapper of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams by playing in the game that every young football player dreams of playing in, as the Rams will take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday in Atlanta (6:30 p.m., CBS).
While McQuaide has spent his entire NFL career with the Rams, he hasn’t always experienced team success. McQuaide didn’t make a single trip to the playoffs in his first six seasons with the Rams, the first five of which came in St. Louis before the Rams moved to Southern California.
The Rams finally snapped their 13-year playoff drought last season, but were defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Atlanta Falcons. This year, though, the Rams are headed back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 17 years – where they will play the same team that defeated them in 2002 – and McQuaide helped them punch their ticket first.
After an interception by Rams safety John Johnson put them in position to win the NFC Championship Game in overtime two Sundays ago, McQuaide snapped the ball back to Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein, who knocked the ball through the uprights for a game-winning 57-yard field goal.
“I already know before he kicked it that it was good,” McQuaide said. “That guy’s talent is out of this world, and he’s a great, great kicker.”
McQuaide credits Rams coach Sean McVay, who is in his just second year as an NFL head coach, with getting the best out of what he believes was an already-talented Rams team and making them a championship contender.
“What coach McVay does on a daily basis, weekly basis, is incredible,” McQuaide said. “He’s the real deal. I think there’s a lot of people in coaching that are faking it. This guy is not faking it. He’s the real deal.”
That said, each of the Rams’ three specialists – McQuaide, Zuerlein and punter/holder Johnny Hekker – have been with the team for at least seven seasons, as has special teams coordinator John Fassel. McQuaide says that makes it extra special for them to have the opportunity to clinch the NFC title and compete for a league championship together.
“It’s what you work for, it’s what you play the games for is for a chance to win a championship, and I think the thing that makes it fun is I’m able to do it with these guys,” McQuaide said. “We’ve been together for a long time.”
McQuaide’s eight seasons with the Rams have prepared him for his chance to play on football’s biggest stage, but he hasn’t forgotten about the school that helped him get there, either. When McQuaide thinks back on his time at Ohio State, he says the “standard of excellence” that former coach Jim Tressel set for his program helped prepare him to make it to the next level.
“Coach Tressel used to say, ‘Consistency is the hallmark of greatness,’” McQuaide said. “So it was about every day showing up and every day doing things the right way, and I think just the whole program that coach Tressel put together … You can’t argue that it was perfectly made to get guys to the league and get the team playing for championships. So I was just really, really fortunate to play with some really great players and play for some great coaches like coach Tressel, Luke Fickell.”
“Every single guy that we had would just go to the league. So once I became a starter, it was like, ‘Well, this is a real thing now. This isn’t a joke anymore, this is actually possible.’”– Jake McQuaide on realizing he could make it to the NFL while at Ohio State
Two of McQuaide’s former teammates at Ohio State, Nate Ebner and John Simon, will also be playing in the Super Bowl for the Patriots, and while his team will be trying to beat their team on Sunday, he’s proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish, too.
“I’ve known those guys for a long time, and I got nothing but the utmost respect for both those guys,” McQuaide said. “Those are real football players, guys who have earned everything they’ve gotten. What I’m doing, as a long snapper, to me, that’s awesome, it’s great. That’s not the same as it is to be a position player in this league. These guys are elite, elite, elite athletes, it’s incredible. So I have absolutely nothing but total respect for what those guys do, and they’re both just consummate professionals.”
McQuaide says he still keeps in touch with Tressel, Fickell and several of his Ohio State teammates through text messages. He has also offered his wisdom from playing in the NFL to the specialists who have come after him at Ohio State, including current Buckeye long snapper Liam McCullough, in hopes of seeing them follow in his footsteps and play in the league themselves.
“As I’m starting to get a little bit older, I feel like I have something to give to the younger guys and the younger long snappers and stuff that maybe I wish that someone would have said to me or helped me out doing this or explained this to me,” McQuaide said. “When I’m coming out (of college), what should I look for in an agent? What makes a good agent? What makes a bad agent? What should I say to a special teams coordinator when they call me and say, what do you think about this or that?”
“If I can shed a little bit of light on those type of things, that’s where I feel like I can help them out a little bit. Because it is a little bit different than college. The stakes are a little different, and people are trying to work for you or against you, and to have a little bit of help from somebody who’s been there before is a big deal, I think.”