NEW ORLEANS – What’s so great about having an All-America kicker if you can’t consistently get the ball to him?
That’s why Tulane is one of a handful of schools in the country to bestow a scholarship on a freshman long snapper.
Sort of like a special-teams version of “The Blind Side.”
And not only did Mike
Lizanich, rated No. 2 nationally at his position by ESPN.com, sign with the Green Wave, he graduated early from Pinnacle High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., so he could enroll at Tulane in January and go through spring practice, which is now in progress.
“We brought in a senior snapper last year (Billy Johnson, a transfer from Georgia) and our guy (kicker Cairo Santos) wins the Groza Award,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “We didn’t get a punt blocked all year either, and we did a lot of punting.
“I’d give a scholarship to a holder, too, if we needed one (the quarterbacks and returning punter Peter Picerelli are vying for the job this spring). That’s better than having a guy you sign redshirt and then maybe ride the bench for another year.”
So consider Lizanich and Tulane the perfect pairing.
The Wave saw the value in a scholarship snapper, even to the point of offering Lizanich last spring.
And Lizanich, who played both center and defensive end at Pinnacle, but early on realized his football future lie in being a snapper, was determined to go where he was offered a scholarship despite walk-on opportunities (with the likelihood of being placed on scholarship after a couple of years) from the likes of Southern California, Texas, Baylor and TCU.
As it turned out, Lizanich’s only other offer was from New Mexico.
“I didn’t feel like I needed to walk on,” he said. “I know that I would have probably been put on scholarship after a couple of years, but I started developing my skills as a snapper in the seventh grade. Tulane started talking to me last spring, and I could tell they were really interested. I can get a good degree here, too.”
Thus, Lizanich is the snapper for the nation’s premier kicker. Santos set an NCAA record last season by going 21 of 21 on field goal attempts.
But Lizanich doesn’t seem particularly impressed by the responsibility.
“I’m glad Carlos is the Groza Award winner; good for him,” he said. “But he’s just the kicker. That’s all.”
Despite having been a two-way position player in high school, Lizanich has the offbeat personality peculiar to special teamers.
“Yeah, he’s about a half-bubble off,” Tulane special teams coach Barry Lamb said. “But then they all are.”
And, Lamb added, thus far he likes what he sees out of Lizanich.
“His strength is good and he’s pretty consistent — not as consistent as he’s will be,” he said. “More than anything else, you can tell how much pride he takes in what he does.”
That’s why Lizanich attended numerous kicking camps over the years and graduated early so he could better acclimate himself to both college life and his new team.
“I was a little bit homesick at first, but now not so much,” he said. “I knew I was ready to go though.
“I’m not even sure I’m going back for graduation.”
Lizanich did acknowledge missing contact drills, although he will be expected to get down on punts as a potential tackler.
But while his teammates are knocking heads in spring drills, Lizanich doesn’t just sit around waiting for special team periods. He gets in at least 200 reps on both long and short snaps.
“Cairo didn’t win the Groza by accident,” Johnson said. “And one of the reasons we didn’t have a punt blocked was because we had a good snapper. We needed a snapper, so we went out and signed one of the best in the country. He’s going to be a four-year player for us, too. Mike really fills the bill for us.”