BOGACZYK: Cincotta Brings Snap to Herd, Even with New Holder
The Word on the Herd-August 7, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – A long snapper’s work often isn’t noticed unless he goes high or low or even the Ueckerish “just a bit outside.”
Fortunately, the guy Marshall has in that role for a third straight season doesn’t often take those detours.
“The guy’s a perfectionist,” said Todd Hartley, the Thundering Herd tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator whose responsibilities include working with special teams.
“The guy” is Matt Cincotta, who is so precise about the quality of his work that perhaps one day he might become a surgeon. After all, he’s majoring in biology and pre-med, with an eye as much on medical school as much as those punters and place-kick holders he can see through his legs.
He’s just as serious about the first half of “student-athlete,” with a 3.55 GPA as a three-time Dean’s Lister at MU. But on the field, there will be one change for Cincotta in the 2014 season.
While he will snap to fellow junior Tyler Williams for punts for a third straight season, Cincotta also will be hiking to Williams as the holder on place-kicks. The holder from the past two seasons, quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, moved to Massachusetts as a graduate transfer.
Frohnapfel stands 6 feet 6 and Williams is a half-foot shorter. So, with both of them kneeling for a Cincotta snap, how does the delivery man view the difference?
“I worked with Tyler a lot this offseason,” Cincotta said after an August camp practice earlier this week. “It just comes down to getting comfortable with a guy. I trusted Blake a lot. You get used to a guy, a nice big target, and then you put a new guy in there and he’s just got to get used to your speed and the timing of it, because there’s a rhythm when it comes to holding.
“For me, it doesn’t really change much of anything because I’m trying to hit the same spot, but with a new holder, there’s a confidence level you have to reach – and Tyler and I have definitely reached that already.
“Of course, a bigger target is going to make you more comfortable, but I’m still aiming at the same spot, the inside of the elbow (the crease). He puts the arm down just inside of his knee. I’m trying to hit that spot every single time. For me, it’s the same thing.”
The “same thing” would be fine with the Herd. For two seasons, Cincotta has been remarkably consistent in his work. His No. 88 hasn’t been noticed nearly as much as, say, when someone named Randy Moss wore the same Marshall number.
“Matt Cincotta is a master technician, which means he perfects his craft,” Hartley said. “He is a guy that came in here Day 1 with a scholarship out of high school – and that doesn’t happen with snappers much these days.
“We saw something of him in a camp and said this guy is on an elite level, elite enough we need to give him a scholarship to make sure we don’t lose him to anyone else. He came in as the starter since Day 1, long and short snapper, and he’s done nothing but gotten better every year. He’s got to be one of the best in the country.
“He’s phenomenal with accuracy, phenomenal with speed and he adds another element to it in that he’s athletic enough that when we require him to cover a punt, he can go down and make plays with that unit. He’s very, very valuable to what we do on special teams.”
The 6-0, 205-pound Cincotta is an erstwhile linebacker from Charlotte (N.C.) Catholic High School. He’s a good athlete. He bench presses 315 pounds and squats 415 and had a long jump of 9 feet, 8 inches, which ranks right there with most Herd linebackers and running backs.
In his two Marshall seasons, he’s made eight tackles, including six solos.
“It was a weird transition coming from high school,” Cincotta said when asked if he misses that part of the game. “I was a defensive captain, a linebacker, and that aspect I do miss a lot. But the punt allows me to get down the field and make some contact.
“It’s a huge change, but you’ve got to realize your role and focus on one thing and really try to master that to help this football team.”
Cincotta has gotten to know a Herd long snapping legend, Chris Massey, who did the task with tremendous results in 10 NFL seasons (2002-11). Massey, who lives in the Kanawha Valley, first worked with Cincotta last spring, and the pair have kept the tutoring sessions up in the weeks since then.
“I’ve really learned a lot from him,” Cincotta said. “The biggest thing is all the blocking. Chris knows so many little tips – things while you’re in the game, so many useful little tips that help so much.
“He’s completely self-taught, it’s incredible. He’s a great snapper, and it’s a huge honor for me to work with him. This summer, we were going at least once a week. I had to take organic chemistry this summer, so there were about five weeks where I had no life, but other than that we’d get together and work.”
Cincotta basically worked last season with no backup, although Hartley said linemen Trevor Mendelson and Alex Schooler worked as occasional snappers in practice, as did linebacker Derek Mitchell. Mendelson was the backup in spring practice, but Hartley said his snapping days are waning, and Cincotta’s backups will be true freshman walk-ons Chad Garrett of Matthews, N.C. (an invited walk-on as a snapper), and Eli Gates of Martinsburg, the son of former Herd starting linebacker (1989-90) Eric Gates.
“I figure one of those guys will solidify himself as the backup snapper,” Hartley said.
Meanwhile, there are no expectations that Cincotta will suddenly lose his grip.
“My bad snap may not be somebody else’s bad snap,” Cincotta said when asked about misfortune – or lack of it – over two years. “If there’s any dip in the ball, I don’t like that. If it’s wobbly, I don’t like that. I’m aiming for the strike zone, mid-thigh to about chest is where I want to hit.
“I’ve had certain games where I haven’t been as consistent as I’ve wanted to be. It’s all relative. I’m extremely tough on myself. I want to be perfect. (Hartley) won’t really mention it unless it’s really bad and then he’ll say something. And if it’s where I’m not as consistent as I want to be in a practice, I’m over there (on the sideline) working to be more comfortable the next day.
“I pretty much coach myself. In a game, when we come off, I’m doing my own drills. If (the coaches) see anything on a certain package, if the defense lines up a certain way, going live if I mess up, maybe they’ll coach me a little bit, if it’s something I feel I’m doing wrong, I’m going to coach myself.”
Williams got his feet wet at holder in spring practice. Backup quarterbacks Gunnar Holcombe and Cole Garvin are his backups. Most NFL teams use punters as place-kick holders. And Cincotta concedes there is some advantage to having a punter rather than a quarterback at the spot.
“Blake was a great holder, but I’m extremely comfortable with Tyler,” Cincotta said. “But I do think it helps a lot because it’s what we do – special teams. It’s something we take extremely seriously and he can notice things, where maybe I’m doing something a little different.
“We can help each other out because we both kind of speak that ‘specialists’ language,’ you might call it. Same wavelength almost, it’s hard to explain. We can get extra snaps in on the side, and Tyler’s not having to worry about memorizing checks and other things a quarterback has to do.”
So, now Williams is trying to catch a laces-up spiral that Cincotta fires back … which brings to mind a variation of a famous 1870s quote from Irish novelist Margaret Wolfe Hungerford.
For Cincotta, beauty is in the elbow crease of the holder.