SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Back when he was growing up in Downers Grove, Ill., Notre Dame long snapper Scott Daly used to tack newspaper articles about longtime Chicago Bears long snapper Patrick Mannelly on his bedroom wall. This wasn’t your typical high school idolization of a star athlete, like Michael Jordan or Brian Urlacher or Sammy Sosa or Frank Thomas.
This was Daly, now a graduate student who will play his final game at Notre Dame Stadium against Virginia Tech on Saturday, identifying the best player in the niche field of long snapping and striving to reach that level.
A few years later, after he arrived at Notre Dame, Daly had the opportunity to meet Mannelly (they were connected through Bill Rees, the father of former Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees and the Bears director of college scouting when Mannelly was drafted in 1998). The two struck up a bond and have worked together a few times a year ever since.
So take it from someone who knows what he’s talking about: Daly has what it takes to make it in the NFL.
“Every time I work with him or taught him something or mention something, he got way better at it,” Mannelly, who long snapped for the Bears for 16 seasons, said. “And that shocked me. I’ve worked with kids, a lot of kids, and they get a little bit better and they put their work in. He seems to me to be a guy who wants to be perfect at it and wants to be great at it, and every time I’ve worked with him, he just got so much better from last year to this year.”
Daly’s sport growing up was always baseball, and he figured that would be his athletic ticket into college. He joined the football team at Downers Grove South and played quarterback and tight end for a bit, but his sophomore year, he discovered he was able to snap the ball to a holder and/or punter pretty well.
Mark Wiggins, a former kicker at Illinois State, was his coach at the time and told Daly’s mother, Marianne, that the Daly family should look into developing Scott as a long snapper.
“He said, I kicked in college and I never had anybody snap the ball to me like he is at 14 years old,” Marianne recalled. “So he said, You oughta take him somewhere and get him seen, because he’s really good.”
Marianne and Kevin Daly took Scott to work with Chris Rubio, who runs long snapping camps for high schoolers and has developed a number of players into college long snappers. About a year later, Rubio ranked Scott as the No. 1 high school long snapper in the country, and he began to receive interest from the college level. Northwestern was the first to offer.
But the offer he always wanted was from Notre Dame. As he set his goals as a long snapper back in high school, Scott didn’t only tack up articles about Mannelly on his wall — he wrote down the Notre Dame Victory March and put it up there, too.
“He’d look at that,” Marianne said. “He was very driven. He’s always had that work ethic.”
After redshirting his freshman year — Scott still got to travel to every game in the 2012 season behind then-long snapper Jordan Cowart — he took over long snapping duties in 2013. And to illustrate how good he’s been at them: Scott’s name has barely come up in coach Brian Kelly’s various press conferences over the last four seasons (and he was mentioned by Kelly earlier this year as the only player whose job wasn't in jeopardy).
“I think maybe that is the best compliment, when you do not talk about your long snapper for four years, that's a pretty remarkable thing to be that efficient,” Kelly said. “To be that consistent over four years is pretty amazing, what he's been able to accomplish here.
“It's unfortunate that he doesn't get as much of the talk, but it is one of those positions that if you don't hear about him he's doing a pretty good job.”
Scott spent the 2015 season snapping to DeShone Kizer, who said Scott's snapping “consistency is second to none.” And Kizer laughed when asked who throws a better spiral, him or Scott.
“I think it's been proven that Scott does a better spiral than I do,” Kizer said (Scott said Kizer throws a better spiral than him, for what it’s worth).
And that brings things back to the starting point of Scott’s relationship with Mannelly. The first thing Mannelly does when he meets a prospective long snapper is toss the player a football and tell him to throw it back. If the player can throw a good spiral, he has the skillset to develop into a long snapper.
Once Scott cleared that first hurdle, the two began working together. One of Mannelly’s latest pointers to Scott was to not lock his knees after snapping, which is a common problem college long snappers have since they don’t have to block (Scott drew a roughing the snapper call against North Carolina in 2014 that helped swing that game to Notre Dame). In the NFL, though, snappers have to block, and Mannelly said many are unprepared to do so upon turning pro.
So Mannelly told Scott to work on not locking his knees this year, and quickly saw Notre Dame’s long snapper start playing like he’ll have to in the pros.
“From last year to this year, he looked like a different snapper in that regard,” Mannelly said. “Not as far as how well he can snap, but how he could move and protect after the snap. I was shocked at the giant leap he made.”
While Scott’s career at Notre Dame will come to an end either Nov. 26 in Los Angeles or in a to-be-determined bowl game in December, it’s unlikely it’ll be the end of his football career. Professional long snapping is a difficult field to crack, but Scott has the right kind of work ethic and mentality to make it.
But for now, Scott and his family will focus on senior day and one last game at Notre Dame Stadium. It'll be his last time coming out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium and his last time spending pre- and postgame time at a place he and his family believe has given them so much.
“It’s been amazing,” Scott said of his time in South Bend. “I came in with such high expectations, academically, athletically and spiritually, and it’s surpassed those on all levels.”
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Marianne said. “I could not be more proud of the man he has become and the goals of what he has achieved and what he has done. There’s nothing like that feeling I had the first time he ran out of the tunnel. And for him to run out the last time, I just know I’m going to lose it.”