Andrew Pitz bunked alone Friday and Saturday nights at the Embassy Suites near the Paradise Valley Mall in Phoenix. Shows how smart he is.
The guys down the hall, a snapper and a punter who were teammates on the University of Colorado football team, weren’t so smart. The snapper “snored like crazy,” said Pitz, a long snapper himself, “and kept the punter awake all night. He finally had to go into the other room -- they’re all suites, you know -- and try to sleep on the couch. It didn’t work.”
And that’s exactly why Pitz, who was the snapper for the Nittany Lions football team the past two seasons, shelled out $109 a night for his own suite -- so he could sleep soundly, without some guy ruining his chances of making the National Football League.
A good night’s sleep, two of them actually, is the kind of edge Pitz is seeking on a daily basis. He went to Phoenix in search of his next step on the road to the NFL. Last weekend, the road was actually North Tatum Boulevard, the main artery connecting Embassy Suites to Bell Road, which ran smack into the aptly-named Paradise Valley High School.
The trip was a shade under five miles and took five years. Pitz came to Penn State as a walk-on in 2005, and there he was 54 months later, seeking paradise. The Paradise High School football field, that is, his destination from the Snoring Suites.
The field was where Gary Zauner was holding a football combine for 64 snappers, kickers and punters who had recently finished their college eligibility and were hoping to get a leg up on their pro careers.
He spent 11 years as a special teams coach in the college ranks and 13 more as a special teams coordinator in the NFL. He’s an A to Z guy: Zauner tutored record-setting kicker Gary Anderson and coached for special teams fanatic George Allen.
These days, Zauner teaches the fringe guys: post-college kids like Pitz and older and aging specialists who yearn to make the NFL, via camps and combines -- Zauner has a NFL free agent camp on March 27-28 in Phoenix. (Seventeen of the 41 kickers at his 2009 camp signed a pro contract.)
(You can sign up for Coach Zauner’s next camp at www.coachzauner.com.)
For Zauner, giving pointers to Andrew Pitz was a snap.
Pitz stood out right away, and not just because he’s 6-foot-2-1/2 and a granite-like 237 pounds.
Always thinking, Pitz asked Zauner if he could bring along his shoulder pads and his helmet. Zauner said he’d check with the NFL Players Association. Pitz ran the idea by his agent, Robert S. Roche, of RSR Management, a New Jersey-based sports agent whose clients include former Penn State punter Jeremy Kapinos, now with the Green Bay Packers.
(Roche footed Pitz’s camp bill of $525, while Pitz handled the room and air fare.)
Zauner and Roche answered in the affirmative. Pitz gave a quiet Hallelujah. He’s a regular Norman Vincent Pitz.
“I figure I wear pads and a helmet to snap anyway,” said Pitz, “and I think it will give me an advantage when they judge how I do.”
The idea had its genesis when Pitz was snapping for Penn State. One day when the team was going sans pads, Pitz and the other snappers went to practice without theirs as well.
“Coach (Bill) Kenney told me to go back inside and get the pads on,” Pitz said. “He was right. What’s the point of snapping without pads on? You never do that in a game.”
Pitz is smart that way. Smart as in two-time Academic All-American. As in graduating in May 2009 with a 3.93 in journalism. As in spending the 2009 football season taking graduate courses in global marketing, sports marketing, survey of telecommunications and e-commerce.
Smart as in planning for his football future.
That’s why, when Pitz packed his bags and flew off to Phoenix for the specialists’ camp, he made room for his helmet and his shoulder pads. The other 15 snappers in camp brought neither.
No surprise. Except for delivering the ball, hardly anything Pitz does involves a snap judgment.
After playing football at Bettendorf High School in Iowa, Pitz had to make a decision about his college career. Iowa State wanted him as a linebacker, and sweetened the pot a bit. Pitz visited Penn State -- his mother Barbara, a college professor, is a Penn State grad. (Father Nick teaches high school German.) Pitz would succeed in nearly any classroom in the country. But it was the football field where he wanted to be best.
So he chose Penn State. The first year or two were rocky, but Pitz persevered and by 2008, he was the short snapper for extra points and field goals. All 88 of his snaps that year were perfect and by season’s end he was handling the punt snaps too. In 2009, he did all the snapping – punts, extra points and field goals.
Didn’t know that, did you? That you may not know his name is testament to the job he did. You may know his number: 40. Often, he’s the guy who led the charge down the middle of the field on punts. Amazingly so. He’d snap the ball back 15-18 yards, then fight his way through traffic to try to make a tackle. The kid never Pitzed up, not once, last season.
Memorably, in one 2008 game he slid more than five yards on a grassy field and then barely slipped into the end zone in an attempt to down the football -- an attempt that TV showed again and again, a visual instant reply of Pitz’s grit.
Walk-on? The kid hustled everywhere. Even moreso these days. He’s a regular crouching Lion, hidden football.
When Pitz returned to State College from Orlando in January, Pitz turned to Victory Sports in the Hills Plaza to help him find an edge. Rob Oshinskie is Andrew’s guy. He has more acronyms after his name -- CSCS, SPC, CCS, ACE -- than Brad and Angelina have kids.
Oshinskie trained Penn State hoopsters Tyler Smith and Joe Crispin, and football players Aaron Collins and John Stupar.
Oshnskie forces -- er, encourages -- Pitz to drink four tablespoons of this double-secret special essential fatty oil that tastes like more like Valvoline than Let’s-Make-Andrew-Lean. Pitz washes it down with a chaser of diet V-8: “no sugar, no high fructose.”
Oshinskie is making Pitz stronger, faster, snappier.
Pitz also goes to Holuba Hall on campus to work out with two up-and-crouching-down Nittany Lion snappers. What a pair. “They’re going to be really good,” Pitz reports.
Emery Etter, a freshman last season, is 6-1 and 239. He’s also an aerospace engineering major. Paterno needs another Academic All-American? He grabs a really smart walk-on and tells him to take a hike, son.
The other snapper, Jon Rhorbaugh, was a junior in 2009. He has an eye on the starting job. Because he only has one eye. I’m not being cruel. Pitz says they pick on him all the time.
“Keep your eye on the ball, Jon,” Pitz chuckles. “And we make jokes about the singular form of I too.”
Hold the homophones, these guys really are student-athletes.
With Pitz, that’s the point. He’s a student of the game. And now, through cunning, hard work, pads and a good night’s sleep, he’s ready. Ready for Penn State’s Pro Day on March 17.
That’s when NFL scouts from teams good and bad come to campus to test Penn State’s players who have committed to the draft.
“We’ll do the bench,” Pitz said, “the 60 shuttle, the three cone run, the 40, broad jump, high jump, player interviews and the Wonderlic (intelligence test).”
A special teams player, Pat McInally, a graduate of Harvard, is the only football player to record a confirmed perfect score of 50. Paul Zimmerman, Sports Illustrated’s Dr. Z, reports that offensive tackles average the highest score (26) and centers are next, at 25. Halfbacks are lowest, at 16. Vince Young reportedly scored a 6.
Wonderlic, Inc., reports that chemists average 31, journalists 26 and security guards 17.
I’m betting that Pitz see the Wonderlic one security guard, raise it a halfback AND throw in a Vince Young just for the heck of it.
Not bad for a guy who usually has his head up his butt.