SALT LAKE CITY — You may not have heard of Keegan Markgraf, one of the starters for the Utah football team, and that’s just fine with him. In fact, if his name never gets mentioned in the paper or on the radio or TV the rest of the season, he’ll be a happy man.
You see, Markgraf plays one of the most anonymous positions on the Ute team, certainly the most thankless.
He’s the long snapper, the guy whose job it is to get the ball back to the placekick holder and punter without it bouncing on the ground or sailing over their heads. He’s expected to be perfect a dozen or so times a game and if he’s not, everybody’s going to know about it.
“Absolutely, if nobody knows my name, I’m the happiest guy in the stadium,” he said.
He performed his job flawlessly in Utah’s opening-game victory over BYU Thursday, even though others on the Utes’ special teams struggled as Andrew Strauch missed a field goal and PAT.
This is Markgraf’s second season as a Ute long snapper. A junior, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder won the job from a player who was recruited for the job but has since transferred. He comes from Hamilton, Canada, near Lake Ontario, just across the border from Buffalo, New York, and after originally going to Central Michigan, he made his way out to Utah, where he worked his way into a starting position.
Markgraf’s start as a long snapper almost happened by chance. He was an average lineman and one day when he was in ninth grade, he was goofing around on the field and caught the attention of his coach as he was doing some long snaps.
“I guess the coach saw something and led me in the right direction,” he said. “I went on YouTube and was self-taught. I was raw with everything. I liked how that started because I didn’t have any bad techniques.”
Markgraf was good enough to get the opportunity to play for Central Michigan, but on the first day of practice he ruptured his right AC joint on the top of his shoulder and then fell behind an entrenched starter on the depth chart. So he sent out some feelers to different schools and Utah was one that responded.
“He sent us his tape and he looked like a guy who could be in the mix,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said.
So two years after high school, Markgraf came out to Utah where he earned the backup spot behind freshman Maddie Golden. But by the first game, he had taken over long-snap duties on field goals and extra points and halfway through the season, he took over on punts as well (Golden has since transferred out of the program).
“Thankfully coach Whitt gave me an opportunity and I couldn’t be happier,” Markgraf said.
When asked about the secret to being a good snapper, Markgraf said it’s all about practice, practice, practice. He said he’s snapped several thousand balls in his life.
“It’s all about consistency,” he said. “No two snappers are alike, but everyone’s form is similar and matching that form so every single time, that ball’s right where it needs to be. Leg speed, arm speed, follow through — all that drives from practice — repetition, repetition, repetition. It’s just getting that muscle memory.”
It helps when the long snapper and the punter and placekick holder have a good relationship, and that has been enhanced the last two years as Markgraf roomed with punter Mitch Wishnowsky last year and rooms with punter/holder Ben Lennon this year.
“We live together and have a good relationship,” Lennon said. “As long as he puts (the ball) on my right hip, I’m happy. There’s a bit of pressure, but he’s up to the job.”.
Whittingham also has words of praise for backup snapper Noah Rodriguez-Trammell but said Markgraf has earned the job this season.
“He’s gotten a lot better since he got on campus,” he said of Markgraf. “When he got here he was pretty good and now he’s outstanding.”
Markgraf had a lot to do with the success of Utah’s all-American kickers, Matt Gay and Wishnowsky, and is appreciative of the love they gave to him.
“Last year we had two incredible guys in Matt and Mitch and they were never short to say thank you and recognize me,” he said. “They were great about letting me know we had a great snap.”
Although the Utes will miss Wishnowsky and Gay, Markgraf feels the Utes’ special teams will be just fine as the season progresses.
“It’s such a big thing at Utah, we feel important, which is nice,” he said. “It is because of our legacy. Everybody knows we have the best special teams in the nation, and as special teams we hold ourselves to that.”