Quentin Skinner Jr. didn’t know what to say. They call him “Mad Dog,” after all, for the stoic look seemingly fixed to his face.
But he knew he had heard the terms correctly: Southern University. College football. Full-ride scholarship.
All he got out was, “Thank you.”
“That simple,” he said.
Because it didn’t seem possible to the 13-year-old, a rising eighth grade long snapper at Vickery Creek Middle School, that he would be collecting college scholarships this soon.
He was at Louisiana State University’s specialist camp this past Sunday merely to get familiar with how summer college camps work, gain exposure and maybe meet a high-profile college coach or two. He wound up the MVP and meeting Tigers head coach Les Miles. He has met Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Georgia head coach Mark Richt.
Southern University special teams coordinator and secondary coach Marty Biagi was at the LSU camp, too. After Skinner Jr. and his dad left LSU, Biagi called with the scholarship offer.
“We were kind of like, ‘Uh, are you serious?’” Skinner Sr. said. “At first, to be honest, I didn’t know if it was a real thing. But [Biagi] was serious about it.
“He said he’s impressed with his ability to long snap, and he basically told us as long as the head coaching staff is in place at Southern – it’s a long ways off – but they just wanted my son to know he had a scholarship offer from them.”
Commitments from middle school football players are often met with equal parts curiosity and skepticism. For a middle school prospect to gain the interest of college football’s elite programs would seem to portend future greatness, or so that program’s fans hope. Others raise the uncertainty of whether such a young prospect will develop physically to match his hype or if such early offers should be an acceptable trend.
There’s long been precedent for middle school players to make verbal commitments – former University of Florida star quarterback Chris Leak committed to Wake Forest as an eighth grader in 1998 – though the frequency has increased markedly in recent years.
David Sills, a rising senior quarterback at Eastern Christian High School in Maryland, committed to Southern California as a seventh grader in 2010. The most recent case in Georgia was former Creekside running back/linebacker Evan Berry, brother of Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry and former Tennessee All-American, who committed to the Volunteers as an eighth grader in 2009.
And yet the NCAA prohibits schools from initiating contact with a player before his junior year of high school and from extending formal written offers to prospects until Aug. 1 of their senior year. All verbal commitments are non-binding until the player signs a National Letter of Intent in February of his senior year.
For Skinner Jr., that would be 2019.
Skinner Sr. acknowledged Southern hasn’t extended a formal scholarship offer.
“They can only tell you verbally,” he said, “so it is what it is.”
Skinner Jr. started long snapping in the fourth grade when he was 10 years old. His Midway Wolverines youth football team was about to move up to punting and kicking fields goals. Someone needed to snap.
Skinner Sr. had seen an article in the Forsyth County News about Bryce Haynes, the former Pinecrest Academy long snapper who was offered by Ohio State and started a local fascination with the special teams position. Haynes worked with Chris Rubio, the long snapping instructor with Rubio Long Snapping & Chris Sailer Kicking.
Skinner Sr., a former center at the University of Wyoming, called Rubio and asked if his son could attend one of his camps.
“He comes up, and he looks like a baby,” Rubio remembers. “You know, he looks like a typical 10-year-old. He listened well. Didn’t say a word. We kind of joked about it because he always had this mean, mad dog look on his face. We nicknamed him ‘Mad Dog’ after that.”
The high school players in attendance immediately took Skinner Jr. under their wing, particularly Blake Ferguson who is currently a rising senior at Buford and committed to LSU.
“I was kind of nervous, because you’re surrounded by a bunch of high schoolers,” Skinner Jr. said. “I kind of felt intimidated, honestly, because these guys were really good at it. But I kind of got used to it the more camps I went to. And I got comfortable. Blake Ferguson kind of took me under his wing at the first camp. He kind of supported me.”
Skinner Jr. showed a precocious talent early on. At that first camp five years ago, Skinner Jr. wowed campers with his snapping.
One of Rubio’s competitive drills is a game designed to test a snapper’s accuracy using a vertical net with three holes that are chest-high, waist-high and knee-high. The goal is to snap it through the red rectangular waist-high hole, the optimal spot for a place-holder or punter to catch the ball during a field goal or punt. Doing so earned three points.
Skinner Jr.’s first snap went through the waist-high hole.
“The place went crazy,” Skinner Sr. said,” and all the boys encouraged him. They were really nice to a fourth grader. These are all high school and late-middle school kids who embraced him and made him feel a part of it.
“We left that, and he wanted to go to the next camp. So we did, and we just kept working on it.”
It became a form of father-and-son playing catch in the backyard for the Skinners, a pastime between the two that they could do even there was only a basketball or tennis court around.
And Skinner Jr. got better and better. Rubio said a good high school long snapper can snap the ball to a place-holder or punter in one second. A good college long snapper can do it in 0.75 seconds. Skinner Jr. has been consistent at 0.75-0.77 seconds.
“I want to reach a 0.65 second snap,” Skinner Jr. said.
So Rubio isn’t surprised Skinner Jr. has the earliest scholarship offer for a long snapper ever, earlier even than Ferguson who was first offered by LSU as a high school sophomore.
“I don’t see a stop to what we can do,” Rubio said. “He legitimately snaps well enough right now to be snapping in college, which is absurd.”
Skinner Jr. has bigger goals.
“Snapping in the Super Bowl would be my No. 1 goal,” he said, “because, you know, it’s the Super Bowl.”