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The three-year varsity start went to great lengths to refine his skills at one of most specialized jobs of all special team's spots

PMG PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Clackamas long snapper Grayson Pibal played an average of 8-10 times a game during his three seasons with the Cavaliers' varsity team, snapping the ball on field goals, extra points, and punts.Clackamas High School's Grayson Pibal went through his prep football career with little to no fanfare.

That's the way long snappers like it.

Pibal was a three-year starter on the Clackamas varsity team, but his duties were limited to snapping the ball in one of three situations — field goals, extra points, and punts.

On a typical Friday night this fall, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior would get called on to do his thing about eight times a game.

He went largely unnoticed because he was extremely good at his job.

Grayson Pibal"Nobody ever hears about the long snapper unless he screws up," Pibal said. "So that's usually a good thing if your name isn't in the headlines."

Pibal earned a special place in Clackamas football history as a sophomore in the 2017 OSAA Class 6A state championship final when he snapped the ball to Mitchell Modjeski who then held it for Jeffrey Nelson to kick a 37-yard field goal with three seconds to play, lifting the Cavaliers to a 31-30 win over South Medford at Reser Stadium in Corvallis.

Nelson, the junior kicker, and Modjeski, the senior quarterback, were mobbed by reporters during the celebration that followed, while Pibal was mostly left out of the media spotlight.

No hard feelings, right?

"No, not really," Pibal said. "I just gave the ball the Mitchell and Jeffrey kicked a good kick. I was just doing my job. That's all I ever do."

Almost every high school league in Oregon is good about recognizing punters, kickers, and return specialists. But all-league honors for long snappers are rare.

It's too bad, too, because Pibal is one of the most proficient long snappers in all of Oregon high school football.

"He's the best I've ever seen," Clackamas special teams coach Matthew Ginnow said. "It's not only his accuracy, but his speed. And he really turned into a team leader this year, too, which is nice. It's been a blessing the last three years to have him.

"With special teams, you can stay awake at night as a coach, worrying about what's going to go wrong. Grayson is as automatic as you can get and that's invaluable."

Pibal came up through the Clackamas Youth Football program and at a young age he had his heart set on playing center. But when he got relegated to the eighth-grade B squad because he lacked the size to anchor the middle of the offensive line, his youth coach, Randy Gay, suggested he look into developing his skills as a long snapper.

"I was maybe 5-10, 130 pounds, so I didn't really have the size to play center," Pibal said. "I had to swing down, but we also needed someone to snap on field goals, and I was like, 'OK, I've played center my whole life,' and I started doing it.

"My coach was like, 'Hey, you're pretty good at this and the senior at Clackamas is leaving after this year. You should talk to him. He'll help you get into it.'"

In October of his eighth-grade year, Pibal attended his first Chris Rubio Long Snapping Camp in Seattle where his football career took an unexpected turn down a new path.

"That's really where it all started," Pibal said. "I just showed up thinking, 'OK, I just have to throw a ball from between my legs,' and I just fell in love with it.

"Going to the Rubio camp for the first time was a really good experience. All the older kids there took the younger ones in and showed you what to do and it was really cool."

Rubio, a former long snapper at UCLA, directed his first camp for long snappers in 2003 and quickly turned it into a lucrative small business, helping to develop high school players into viable college prospects.

The camps stress athleticism, strength training, and technique, with an emphasis on speed and accuracy. Players are graded on their ability to snap the ball to a target that is roughly the size of a baseball strike zone — from the knee cap to the chest — from 15 yards away.

Pibal admits he was a little shaky starting out, but over time — he said he has attended 14 Rubio camps over the course of his high school career — he has seen his snapping game get significantly better.

"It took a lot of hard work," Pibal said. "Personally, I don't think I got good until my junior year. I still don't think I'm the best. I think there's still plenty of room to improve.

"But I've definitely seen a lot of improvement from my junior year to senior year. I put in a lot of time in the weight room, on the field, and after-hours throughout the summer, perfecting what it is I do."

He said there's also more to long snapping than throwing the ball backwards from between his legs.

"You also have to be really strong mentally, because if you mess up, you can't dwell on it," Pibal said. "If you mess up, you mess up and you just have to go on to the next one.

"I've been pretty fortunate, knock on wood, to have been pretty successful with my snapping, so far."

It's rare, too, to find a player who is willing to go to the lengths that Pibal has gone to over the past four years to become so efficient at such a specialized skill.

"I've never worked with anyone like Grayson," Ginnow said. "I mean, he's automatic. I got to the point where I didn't even watch him anymore. I'd watch everything else because I never had to worry about him.

"He is literally one of the best in the state, if not the best, and he's probably one of the better ones in the country. I've never seen anyone specialize like that."

Pibal is confident that he will get an opportunity to continue his playing career in college. He has had contact with coaches at Oregon State, Washington State, Portland State, Wyoming, Cal-Poly, Nevada-Las Vegas, and Montana, but said "it's nothing serious yet. Just talking to them."

"There are no offers yet," he said. "If there were, I'd love it."

One of the realities of college recruiting is that there are very few scholarships for incoming freshmen long snappers. There are exceptions, but generally, most college programs recruit long snappers as preferred walk-ons who have opportunities to earn scholarships after they have proven themselves on the practice field and in the classroom.

"You stress a little bit about it," Pibal said. "And it stresses your parents a little bit, too. They probably have had a few more restless nights than I have, but ... offers will come, eventually.

"It's just that schools aren't going to offer a long snapper before they offer a quarterback or a lineman."

NCAA Division I football has an early signing period for student-athletes in the class of 2020 on Dec. 18-20, followed by the regular signing period on Feb. 5-April 1. The regular signing period for Division II football is Feb. 5-Aug. 1.

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