Tanner Purdum long snaps a football so fast you can literally hear it zipping by.
The offensive special teams center for the New York Jets was in Louisiana on Monday, June 23, working out with his dad, Louisiana Head Football Coach Greg Purdum.
When Tanner demonstrated his long hikes to a small group on the Bulldogs football field, his dad emulated a punter. He took his rings off before he started catching the snaps, for fear the impact would break a finger.
When Tanner was showing how he snaps for field goals to Louisiana Assistant Football Coach Tom Fallert, he warned him to not sneeze or blink, the implication being he could get hurt if he didn’t catch it.
It is impressive but not surprising that Purdum can hike a football like a guided missile, he’s been doing it all his life as a family legacy.
“I’ve done it since I could fall over,” he said, remembering sessions in the back yard with his dad. “My dad can do it, his dad did it, my uncle’s can do it and my sisters can do it. It’s a lot more complicated in college and the pros when you have to block after the snap.”
Purdum is entering his fifth season as the Jets special teams long snapper for punts, field goals and extra points. He averages five to 10 plays per game.
While Purdum doesn’t take the full- game beating other players do, “It’s never nice to have a 300-pound man fall on you,” he said. A recent rule change where defensive lineman can’t push right down on him and have to try to go through a gap should help Purdum achieve his goal of playing 10 years in the NFL.
Two opposing players stand out over the first four years of his career with the Jets.
“Vince Wilfork of the (New England) Patriots is a beast,” Purdum said. “He’s the fastest man I’ve ever gone against. He touches you and throws you five yards.”
Chicago Bears punt returner Devin Hester is also no picnic.
“He just has a different speed,” that leaves other players in awe, Purdum said. One time when Purdum was covering a punt downfield that Hester was returning, he thought he had him pinned on the sideline.
When Purdum broke down to tackle Hester, he grabbed nothing but air.
“I had him and he was just gone,” Purdum said.
to the NFL
While Purdum is enjoying his career in the NFL, the league’s scouts didn’t exactly come calling when the annual draft came around.
Purdum played quarterback and long snapped in high school in Waco, Texas and Ava, Mo., and at Baker University in Kansas, a small private college.
Purdum coached for a couple years after college and got his masters degree at Baker.
During that time, he attended a Kansas City Chiefs preseason game and found himself on the parking lot with two former NFL punters, who were arguing about who was better in their day.
Purdum long snapped for them and they told him he could do it in the NFL if he put on weight.
That started a five-to-six hours per day workout regimen and a lot of eating. He gained 50 pounds and in the spring of 2009, got tryouts with the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers.
Those tryouts didn’t lead to jobs, but he was signed by the Chiefs after another tryout and then quickly released.
He went back to Waco, where his mother lives, to coach football, substitute teach and lick his wounds.
“Out of the blue the Jets called,” Purdum said. He tried out in February 2010, and has started for them since.
Never give up
One of the reasons Purdum made the NFL and stuck is because he listens to his own advice.
“Don’t let anybody tell you, ‘you can’t,’” he said. “I shouldn’t be in the league based on pedigree purposes. But if you work hard enough and you get the opportunity, you have to take it.”
Another reason is Purdum has tuned in to the NFL survival mode.
“As you get older, you learn training speed and game speed, he said.”
NFL players who train at full speed don’t often last the season and are more prone to injury, Purdum said. That’s not to say he slacks at practice or in the weight room, but he has learned to turn on his 100 percent switch just before game time.
Purdum plays at 6 feet, 3 inches and 250 pounds, relatively small for the NFL but it suits him.
“At 250 to 252, I can keep my strength up,” he said. “At Kansas City, they wanted me at 270 and that was just too hard.”
Long snapping “takes a lot of practice and focus on fundamentals,” Purdum said. “You’ve got to think about hand placement. How wide are your feet? Are your toes level? Is your back straight? There’s a lot to it.”
As the long snapper he’s also not in the spotlight or a New York media darling. He gets recognized occasionally, “but I don’t get mobbed when I go somewhere.”
There have been highs and lows during Purdum’s four seasons and certain games stand out, in particular two playoff contests in his rookie year.
“I was on the field for the game-winning field goal against the Colts and Peyton Manning and it was great,” Purdum said.
The next week, the Jets beat the favored Patriots by two touchdowns.
“Their fans were disgusted and there was utter silence in the Patriots stadium,” Purdum said. “I loved it.”