Liam McCullough was going to commit to play football for Michigan State.
It was in late 2013 in the weeks after the Spartans had edged Ohio State for a Big Ten championship. The opportunity looked alluring.
Michigan State had been among the handful of schools to offer McCullough a scholarship, a rare overture to a long snapper who had just finished his junior season at Worthington Kilbourne High School.
McCullough then set about to inform other college coaches of his decision. But before he could let down Urban Meyer in a face-to-face meeting, the player learned firsthand why the Ohio State coach had such a reputation as a relentless recruiter.
Meyer pressed McCullough, asking if he was serious about committing to Michigan State. McCullough answered yes. This was no bluff.
Then Meyer, who at that point had only promised him a spot on the team as a preferred walk-on, offered a scholarship.
"I’m not gonna lose a local kid to any school in that state up north," McCullough recalled Meyer declaring.
In minutes, McCullough became only the second high-school long snapper to receive a scholarship to play at Ohio State. He committed on the spot, changing plans.
The move set the stage for him to join the Buckeyes. He redshirted as a freshman, in 2015, but over the next four seasons, few players in college football were better at shoving a football between their legs.
As a senior last fall, McCullough was one of three finalists for the Patrick Mannelly Award as the nation’s premier long snapper. Punts and field-goal attempts for Ohio State went off without a hitch.
Now he’s trying to land his next gig as a long snapper in the NFL.
It’s a coveted spot. Compared with other positions in the league, snap specialists enjoy longer shelf lives. When last season ended, 12 of the 32 long snappers had been in the NFL for eight years or longer, including some careers spanning 15 or 16 years, according to the website longsnap.com.
The physical toll is less taxing than for offensive linemen or linebackers who might be on the field for a majority of the time. Long snappers run out for only about a dozen plays a game.
But long tenures mean few jobs become available. NFL teams carry one long snapper on their 53-man roster. Across the league, only one rookie appeared in a game last season.
"It’s a great job to have," McCullough said. "It’s just a hard job to get."
McCullough has spent months preparing for the NFL draft with former NFL long snapper Justin Snow at Pro X Athlete, a training center in Westfield, Indiana. The pair also worked together in previous offseasons.
Their focus has been on blocking, the biggest hurdle facing draft prospects.
In college, long snappers generally are not required to block. Rules permit them to dive into punt coverage as soon as the ball is hiked. In the NFL, however, long snappers must block until the ball is kicked.
"You can have some of the best snappers on the country," Snow said, "but if their footwork isn’t very good or they’re undersized, they don’t have a fair shot. Coaches will just look past them."
Ohio State coaches put McCullough in situations in practice to work on blocking since he carried professional ambitions. The reps helped. But McCullough only recounted a handful of times in college — mostly late in his junior season in 2018 — when he blocked during games.
The Buckeyes prioritized punt coverage, sending as many players as they could downfield to stuff a returner rather than leaving them behind the line of scrimmage for protection.
"They always knew that I had a passion for long snapping and a dream to move on to the next level," McCullough said. "One of the things coach Meyer, as well as (strength) coach Mickey Marotti, told me is that the better you are for Ohio State the better you’re going to be in the NFL."
During workouts over the winter, Snow staged situations for McCullough to practice blocking, involving matchups against rushers.
McCullough zeroed in on fundamentals that followed a snap, like raising his head to face the rush and backpedaling a yard or two yards into his blocking stance. A quicker snap also allows him to start that process sooner.
Snow considers McCullough to have ideal size. Listed at 6 feet 2 and 237 pounds as a senior at Ohio State, he is light enough to handle speedy rushers, but big enough to handle bulldozers, mirroring a fullback or tight end.
Few scouts will ultimately see McCullough in person during the lead-up to the draft, which is scheduled for April 23-25, creating an additional challenge on his NFL path. The coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of Ohio State’s pro day and other private workouts.
Following one interview with the Las Vegas Raiders last month, McCullough sent the team video footage of his snapping workouts, along with bench-press reps and a pro-shuttle run, typical individual testing seen in a pre-draft workout.
McCullough was not one of the two long snappers invited to the NFL scouting combine in February.
If overlooked, McCullough ultimately plans to pursue a career in finance. He previously interned at Goldman Sachs. Bryce Haynes, his long-snapping predecessor at Ohio State, went to medical school rather the NFL.
Whether McCullough is selected in the draft or signed as an undrafted free agent, he must impress at a team’s preseason training camp in the summer before making their roster. It’s possible he will.
Coaches tout his composure, vital for long snappers who are required to be perfect on every extra point, field goal or punt, bringing a share of pressure. It was a trait that struck Chris Rubio when McCullough attended his camps in high school.
"He was just relaxed and giggling and having a good time," said Rubio, a former long snapper at UCLA. "When you get a tense long snapper, they never, ever do well. And he was one of those kids that you could just tell was blasé. He was relaxed all the time. That’s what you want."
McCullough has been snapping since he was in middle school, but it became a more serious endeavor when he arrived at Kilbourne.
Vince Trombetti, the school’s former coach, took notice of his snaps at a practice with the freshman team, believing he had a knack for it. Soon enough, McCullough was setting up field goals and punts on the varsity team.
"It kind of stuck out to my dad and I like, ‘Shoot, the coach is recognizing this, this might be something to pursue,’ " McCullough said.
They took a practical approach and sought opportunities for him to continue in college. Almost a decade later, the pursuit continues, with an eye fixed on the highest level.