SALT LAKE CITY — The most anonymous player on any football team should be the long-snapper, the guy whose job it is to get the ball back to the punter and placekicker as many as a dozen times per game without goofing up.
With a name like Maddie Golden, it’s hard to be anonymous, but that’s what the young, baby-faced freshman from South Carolina is hoping to be for the next four years as the Utah football team’s long snapper.
“Staying off ESPN is probably a good thing when you’re a long snapper,” said Golden, who was announced as the Utes’ starting long snapper earlier this week. “The saying with long snappers is, if you do your job, you’re not going to be noticed and that’s definitely the goal. If you’re in the media, you better have your fingers crossed that it’s a good thing.”
After four years of stability, with Chase Dominguez handling the duties from 2013-16 with hardly a glitch, the Utes’ long-snapping was an adventure at times last year as the Utes used three different players at the position with varying degrees of success.
Now the Utes hope they’ve found someone like Dominguez to hold down the position for the next four years in Golden, who arrived in Utah just three weeks ago and earned the job over two older players.
"Maddie has won our starting snapper job and a scholarship with that,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We dedicated a scholarship this year to the snapper that performed the best. It was a great competition. We had three guys that were really battling, were neck-and-neck and Maddie ended up being the guy by the slimmest of margins. He's just a freshman, so hopefully, we've got that solved for the next four years.”
Golden hardly knew where Utah was before last spring when he was contacted by Utes’ graduate assistant Jeremy Lapan. At a camp in Las Vegas last year, Golden had made a “Top-12” list of Chris Rubio, a former UCLA long-snapper who holds camps throughout the year, training long-snappers. Golden was planning to play somewhere closer to home until the Utes came calling.
“Me and my dad came out here on a visit and I ended up committing in May,” Golden said. “Late in the game I picked up an offer from LSU and had some offers from back home, but I felt like this was the best place for me. Utah is the No. 1 special teams team in the country and they really feel passionately about special teams. So it was a pretty obvious choice.”
It wasn’t so obvious for the Ute coaching staff to decide between three long-snappers this fall.
Noah Rodriguez-Trammell, a sophomore from Van Nuys, California, had taken over long-snapping duties at midseason in 2017 from Alex Whittingham and Harrison Handley and was back this year, joined by Keegan Markgraf a transfer from Central Michigan, who is originally from Ontario, Canada.
Golden arrived at the first of August and quickly impressed the coaches and awarded a scholarship a few days ago. It’s a vital position for the Utes, who just happen to have perhaps the best punter and placekicker in the nation in Mitch Wishnowsky and Matt Gay, who have both been pleased with Golden’s ability so far.
“Long snapping is huge in the process of punting and kicking field goals,” said Gay. “You have to trust the ball is going to be back there every single time. You also have to have a good rhythm between you, the snapper and the holder. (Golden) has been really consistent, can whip the ball back there.”
Wishnowsky concurs, saying, “Long snap is just as important as the punt or the kick. (Golden’s) been snapping outstanding balls, so I’m 100 percent happy.”
Golden, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 218 pounds, got serious about long snapping after his sophomore year of high school when he says, “I just realized I wasn’t 6-4, 250 pounds and going to be a D-I defensive end. I was pretty good at long snapping and heard about the Rubio guy and ended up in the rankings and got serious about it after that.”
While there is obviously talent involved in snapping the ball quickly and to the same spot every time, Golden says it really comes down to practice.
“It’s putting in the time,” Golden said. “Like anything else, practice makes perfect the more you snap the more you get used to it.”
The key to a good consistent long snap? Golden says, “Follow through is probably the biggest one. Long snapping is a lot about where you throw your hands. When I’m coming through under my legs, where I finish with my hands is where the ball is going to go.”
His full name is William Madison Golden and he’s gone by Maddie since kindergarten. “I didn’t like at first. I used to get made fun of for having a girl’s name, but now I kind of embrace it,” he says.
On the other hand, people tell him he has a cool last name and he’s been referred to as “Golden Boy” more than once.
He'd just as soon not see his name up in lights and if he never gets his name in the paper for the rest of the season, that's just fine with Maddie Golden.
“No it’s about the team,” he says. “I’m here to help Mitch and Matt get the Ray Guy and Lou Groza awards.”