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Ducks' long snapper works in anonymity

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Drew Howell

Drew Howell has brought stability to Oregon’s long snapper position. He is the Ducks’ first returner at that spot in the last five years. (Mark Ylen/Democrat-Herald)

EUGENE - It'as safe to say not many people know the name Drew Howell when it comes to Oregon football.

And the Ducks sophomore long snapper would like to keep it that way.

Howell had an uneventful season in 2010 as he jumped right into a starting role as a true freshman.

Special teams coach Tom Osborne said Oregon's punter - primarily Jackson Rice - had to move his feet to catch the ball twice in 43 attempts.

Because the Ducks didn't punt in their season-opening blowout against New Mexico, Howell's first experience came at Tennessee in front of 102,000 people.

"I had a lot of fun. I was definitely nervous, but I just had to remember what I was supposed to do. Just execute," Howell said earlier this week as Oregon prepared for its Sept. 3 opener against LSU in Arlington, Texas.

His season ended, of course, in the BCS national title game.

"True freshman snapping in the national championship game ... you would never know it. Every ball is on a dime," Osborne said.

Howell, from Tehechapi, Calif., got his start in long snapping at around age 10 or 11 when a coach was looking for volunteers.

The first experience was a positive one, with Howell having some success right away, and he stuck with it.

Howell was an offensive guard and linebacker in high school and remained a long snapper.

He attended several kicking camps and was recognized for his talent, which led to a scholarship.

When his opportunity came last fall with the Ducks, Howell thought nothing of being an 18-year-old true freshman in such a pressure-packed spot.

"I thought of it as, ‘I know how to snap. I know how to do my job. I've been snapping for a long time,'" he said.

But Osborne says it was a big deal for a first-year player to perform like that.

"I haven't had many of those guys," said Osborne, in his 11th year with the Ducks. "(Current linebacker) Michael Clay did, but Michael Clay is a freak. I don't think I've ever seen another guy do it.

"The fact that he did that so efficiently is mind-boggling."

Howell is Oregon's first returning long snapper in the last five years.

That took some stress off the Ducks' coaching staff to find someone for the position and spend hours teaching and fine-tuning the ins and outs.

"It takes guys a while, and to Drew's credit he did a great job picking that up last year," Osborne said. "He did an awesome job snapping for us."

Howell rattles off the requirements of the job like the veteran that he is.

You need good flexibility in your hips and hamstrings. When you snap you want to lead with your release point, thumbs out. Your legs, which provide power and speed in the snap, need to be locked.

Howell credits his success last year to practice. Simply, he said, the more you practice the more consistent you become.

It's all that practice that kept Howell calm and focused last season, when each week the spotlight became a little brighter.

"You can't really think of it as, ‘man, this is a big game," You just have to think of it as, ‘this is another game and do my job.' "

Oregon returns all seven of its starting specialists who finished the 2010 season in those spots.

Kicker Rob Beard, Rice, kick returner Kenjon Barner, punt returner Cliff Harris and short snapper Jeff Palmer are all entering their third seasons as starters.

Rice is also the holder, having replaced the injured Nate Costa in game nine last year.

Kick returner Josh Huff joins Howell as a second-year starter.

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