Jake Filkins learned to long snap in the backyard with his dad. Now he is practicing his craft on a bigger stage -- in TCF Bank Stadium and college football fields around the country. During a fall camp featuring strong competition for the kicking and punting jobs, Filkins is one of the few known quantities.
At the beginning of camp, head coach Jerry Kill said that he felt good about Filkins at long snapper and Peter Mortell at holder. Filkins is glad to have a steady role, but is more concerned about the unit's overall success.
Filkins has taken care of all the Gophers' long snaps the past two years.
"It feels good," Filkins said. "But the thing is, as a specialist group, we're so close. It doesn't really matter who's in there."
As a freshman in 2010, Filkins was benched in a game after a bad snap on a punt. But when his replacement made a mistake, Filkins came right back in. After that school year, he gave up wrestling for the Gophers, which he had done in 2009-10 and 2010-11, to focus on football. During the 2011 and 2012 seasons, he took of all the long snaps -- for punts, field goals and extra points.
"We've had different kickers and different punters," Filkins said. "But the nice thing is, no matter who's punting or who's holding, we all really work as one. I guess that's probably the best thing I can say about what it's like to be a specialist. It's kind of the undesirable, the unnoticed position, but at the same time, we all embrace and we're all so close because of it. It makes it easy for me to work with anybody."
A few of the Gophers in the kicking and punting battles this fall have either had college game experience or been on the sidelines during the Gophers' games, so they have a sense of what to expect. Ryan Santoso and Justin Juenemann, the two freshmen currently practicing in that group, were more unknown.
"Going in, I was a little worried -- we all were as upperclassmen -- about what's going to happen and how we're going to mesh," Filkins said. "But they both have been great with us. They fit in nicely."
Filkins said that Kill does a good job of putting the kickers in high-pressure scenarios in practice. The Gophers have also set out a cone at 50 yards as a goal for distance on punts. Being a team player, Filkins said he has felt bad when punters have been criticized for inconsistency in recent years.
"For me, I'm just as much a part of the punt as the punter is," he said. "I'm the first half. I have to give a good ball. If he has a bad punt because of a snap that's a foot lower than it should be, then it's a reflection of what I do as well as him."
No one knows yet who will be kicking and punting when the UNLV game rolls around. But whoever it is will have a true veteran snapping him the ball.
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