Oct. 20, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. -- - There aren't too many jobs on a football team lonelier than that of a long snapper -- unless, of course, you are the backup long snapper.
Meet Andrew Fowler, who has had the distinction of holding both positions - along with many others - during his five-year Stanford football career.
Fowler took a rather circuitous path to Stanford. After a solid if not spectacular high school career at the Bishop's School in La Jolla, Fowler decided to spurn recruiting offers from the University of San Diego - then coached by Jim Harbaugh - to head east to tiny Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.
"It seemed like the perfect combination of athletics and academics for me at the time," said Fowler. "I would have the chance to play both football and baseball and attend one of the top liberal arts schools in the nation. Stanford was always my dream school, but I think it was just a thought in the back of my head."
Fowler took notice when Harbaugh was hired at Stanford in December of 2006 and it wasn't long before he placed a call to recruiting coordinator Lance Anderson to discuss the possibility of transferring. He admits he might have never picked up the phone to make a life-changing call if it wasn't for the persistency of his mother, Alexis.
"She was the one who really pushed me to pursue my dream and come to Stanford," remembers Fowler. "She was a driving force. Without her, I don't know if I would have ever pulled the trigger."
Harbaugh agreed to let Fowler join the squad as a walk-on. Finding a place for him to play was another matter. Linebacker, defensive end and fullback - Fowler tried them all with little success. His options were further limited after he suffered a concussion on a special teams play against San Jose State in 2009, an injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
"I was a jack of all trades and master of none," said Fowler. "After suffering a concussion, I had to make a decision between my long term health and football. I met with my neurologist and he advised me to sit out the rest of the season, but he left the door open for me to come back as a long snapper only, where my contact would be minimized."
In hindsight, the advice proved to be especially fortuitous. Not only could Fowler devote all of his attention to honing his long snapping skills, but he now qualified for a medical redshirt year, thus picking up a sixth year of eligibility.
Though he had secured a spot on the team's depth chart as the backup long snapper, Fowler's patience would be tested for the next three seasons as he served as Zach Nolan's understudy.
"In 2008, Zach beat out Andrew for the starting job in a very close competition," recalls Anderson. "It was back and forth all spring. At the end, we ended up going with Zach who had three years of eligibility remaining. Andrew is still around. That tells you something about his perseverance."
With Nolan firmly ensconced as the starter, Fowler bided his time by quietly taking his reps in practice, soaking up all of the intricacies of the position and waiting patiently for an opportunity that he was never sure would come.
"His attitude and demeanor has always been terrific," says special teams coordinator Brian Polian. "Whenever we gave a coaching point to Zach, Andrew was right there taking it all in. He prepared himself very well to take this job over."
With a Stanford degree in hand and a handful of job offers waiting for him, Fowler made the decision to return to the team this season for the opportunity to hold down the team's long snapper duties and earn a master's degree in management science and technology.
"I pretty much made up my mind last year after our team banquet," said Fowler. "I remember looking around the room and seeing guys like David Green, Matt Bentler and all of my other teammates and thinking maybe I could come back next year and become a starter. After being a backup for three years, the thought of starting was very satisfying.
"It sounds cheesy, but now I'll be able to tell my kids I was a starter."
His decision to return to the team for one final season could prove to be as much of a life-changing moment as his decision was to come to Stanford in the first place.
Polian has no doubt Fowler has the skill set to play long snapper on the next level.
"He's a physically gifted kid," said Polian. "People don't understand long snapping is a specialized skill. Think about it - you have to snap a ball 15 yards between your legs in less than a second and be able to handle a 260-pounder in the A-gap. That's why guys who do it well can do it for a long time and make a nice living.
"He is exceptional at it - good enough to where he probably deserves a look at the next level. He offers us more in coverage because he is such a good athlete. He's a better athlete than most guys at that position."
The thought of working on Sundays hasn't been lost on Fowler.
"It would be a huge honor, but right now I'm just focusing on this season and being the best college long snapper I can," Fowler said. "But if the opportunity to play in the NFL presented itself, I would absolutely go get it."
This one-time Williams College Eph who followed his mother's advice to pursue his dream of attending Stanford, refusing to be deterred after enduring numerous position changes and a career-threatening injury, will leave Stanford with two degrees and plenty of options.
After being informed of the news in front of teammates and coaches, Andrew had a phone call to make.
Good things happen when you listen to your mother.
by Jim Young, Senior Asst. Athletic Director/Media Relations and Communications