McQuaide beats long odds, reaches Super Bowl

Bill Rabinowitz
Jake McQuaide went from being a walk-on tight end at Ohio State to being the long-snapper for the Rams in next week's Super Bowl. [David Banks/The Associated Press]

If New Orleans had won last week’s NFC championship game, next week’s Super Bowl would have been a showcase for high-profile former Ohio State players.

Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr. and seemingly the entire Saints secondary are ex-Buckeyes. But the Los Angeles Rams prevailed, and it would take a pretty devoted Ohio State fan to identify the one Buckeye from that team.

That wouldn’t bother Jake McQuaide. After all, anonymity is just fine for long-snappers, who are noticed only when they mess up. McQuaide, an eight-year veteran, has earned Pro Bowl honors the last two seasons.

“You want to fly under the radar,” McQuaide said.

Last Sunday in the Rams’ victory, McQuaide had to make pressure-filled snaps on Greg Zuerlein’s 48-yard field goal at the end of regulation and on the winning 57-yarder in overtime.

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That sent the McQuaide and the Rams to next Sunday’s Super Bowl against the New England Patriots and two of his former Ohio State teammates. Nate Ebner (2009-11) is, like McQuaide, a former Ohio State walk-on who has been a longtime special-teams ace for the Patriots. John Simon (2009-12), who joined the Patriots this year, was a star defensive end on Ohio State’s undefeated team in 2012.

“Really good dudes,” McQuaide said of Ebner and Simon. “Hardworking guys, salt-of-the-earth guys. They deserve everything they’ve gotten. Nothing has been handed to either of those guys. When you think of what a football player is and what a man is, those are two guys who are epitome of it.”

Nothing was given to McQuaide, either. He described himself as only an “OK” football player as a tight end and long-snapper at Cincinnati Elder. His plan was to begin his Ohio State career as a snapper and then develop into more of a full-time tight end.

He quickly realized that was not meant to be. McQuaide had played in high school against tight end Jake Ballard in basketball and they enrolled together at Ohio State in 2006.

“The first day of training camp as a walk-on freshman year, I saw him and was like, ‘Are you going to play tackle?’ McQuaide recalled. “He was like, ‘No, I’m a tight end.’ ”

McQuaide was 6 feet 2 and, at most, 220 pounds. Ballard was several inches taller and about 50 pounds heavier.

“I was like, the writing is on the wall here,” McQuaide said. “I try to be honest with myself. To me, it was blatantly obvious.”

McQuaide balanced football and a major in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. He had plans of possibly working for General Electric Aviation in his hometown.

“I was going to Ohio State for school even before I was told I could walk on,” he said. “I’ve always had a thing for airplanes. I thought I’d love to do that. I took a couple introductory classes and loved it. So far, I haven’t had to use it, thank God. I’m trying to keep that streak alive as long as I can.”

McQuaide earned a scholarship after his sophomore year and was a fifth-year senior in 2010. The Rams, then in St. Louis, signed him as a free agent in 2011. He beat out veteran Chris Massey in training camp. Now, only guard Rodger Saffold has been on the Rams longer.

Even with his Pro Bowl accolades, McQuaide, 31, knows how fleeting an NFL career can be.

“Every year, they’ll bring in somebody in training camp,” he said. “It’s you and him. I tell people, imagine at your job — say you’re an accountant — and for a month every year they’re going to bring another accountant in, and you guys are going to do the same job for a month. And at the end of that month, they’re going to pick who they like better. That’s life in the NFL.”

McQuaide has long beaten the odds. Now he has reached the pinnacle.

“It’s what you play for,” McQuaide said. “You play to compete for championships. That’s what you work for all year round. To finally have a chance for one is an amazing feeling.”