The most anonymous player in football, and perhaps all of sports, is the long-snapper. Because the only time you ever hear about them is when things go horribly wrong.
More than likely you’ve never heard of Rick Lovato Jr., or at least not after he left Middletown South since he snapped the ball without incident at Old Dominion the past four years.
And if he has his way, you won’t be hearing much about him when he’s playing in the NFL, either.
“There’s no room for error. It’s all about being perfect every single time,” said the 6-2, 240-pound Lovato. “In college I had right around 430 long snaps, and I had a select few that didn’t go my way, but none caused a huge problem. I never snapped it over the punter’s head. I never had one that just rolled back or anything like that.”
Sure, it’s a longshot. A specialist from an Old Dominion program that just transitioned to the FBS level in 2014, trying for one of only 32 jobs, most of which are filled.
But Lovato has a few things working in his favor, not the least of which is his Middletown South pedigree.
The Eagles have had a penchant for producing NFL players over the years, including Christian and Jason Peter and Knowshon Moreno. And last season tight end Scott Simonson, who Lovato grew up playing alongside, went from tiny Assumption College to play for the Oakland Raiders.
“It’s really cool trying to be the next guy from Middletown South, to keep that tradition going,” he said. “We do produce NFL players and there’s a lot of talent coming out each and every year. To see what Scott Simonson did with the Raiders last year was great.”
And if you’re good to the point that the head coach never has to worry you, which Lovato appears to be, there’s the potential for a nice career at the next level. Southern Regional’s Clark Harris has been in the NFL since leaving Rutgers in 2007, having served as the Cincinnati Bengals’ long-snapper since 2009.
There’s been no shortage of interest in Lovato, who worked out privately for the Miami Dolphins last week.
“The kid is good, and I’ve been at this a long time and I’ve represented a lot of NFL long snappers,” said Robert Roche, Lovato’s agent. “Rick has the talent and ability to play in the NFL. No doubt about it. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on him.”
And then there’s the size and athleticism required to block and get downfield in coverage, something that separates the best long-snappers from the rest.
Lovato’s father, Rick Sr., was the first state championship wrestler at Middletown South, winning the 188-pound title in 1980. He went on to wrestle at Temple.
The elder Lovato and his wife, Maureen, did not miss an Old Dominion game, home or away, for four years.
“It’s a very exciting time,” Lovato Sr. said. “”It was actually my wife who said, `for him to play in college we should probably concentrate on long snapping,’ and I said `you’re probably right.’ So she started taking him to camps and every single time he was better. And he had a great college career as a long snapper.”
The videos, both from his Pro Day at Old Dominion, and from two special teams camps he attended, show that technical excellence is a must at that level. Every snap to a holder has to arrive at the perfect height with the laces pointing out or points are deducted in one drill, while snaps to a punter have to be laser beams that arrive waist high. No exceptions.
“I’ve looked up every single long-snapper in the NFL. I could name any of them,” Lovato said. “They average right around my size, at 6-2, 240. So I feel like I can compete based on my size and overall athleticism.
“I went to an All-Star game, the Gridiron Classic in Arlington, Texas. There were over 100 scouts there and it was surreal how much pressure is on everyone. Their eyes are on you at every moment. When you’re taking a sip of water they’re evaluating you. It was a crazy experience but it definitely got me used to what I needed to do over the next few weeks after that.”
On the refrigerator in the Lovato home in Middletown is an old photo of Rick Jr. playing flag football as a youth in Lincroft, with Simonson in the photo as well.
And wouldn’t it be nice to one day get an updated image of the two standing together some Sunday in an NFL stadium.
Staff writer Stephen Edelson is an Asbury Park Press columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @SteveEdelsonAPP