I recently had the privilege of conducting an interview with New York Jets long snapper Tanner Purdum. Purdum has been the team’s long snapper since the 2010 season and is the second longest tenured player on the team behind linebacker David Harris. He has consistently been one of the team’s most reliable and unheralded players over the course of the past 7 years so it seems fitting that the spotlight finally be placed on one of the unsung heroes of the New York Jets organization. Thank you to Mr. Purdum for his courteous and gracious effort to take time out of his busy schedule for this interview.
Q. How did you learn to long snap and when did you start doing so?
A. I learned from my dad, he’s been a head football coach for about 30 years now. I’ve been doing it since I could do it without falling over. Before I was 3 my dad had me snapping a little football in the backyard and all that. [My dad] was a snapper in college and my grandfather was a snapper in college, so it’s just something that kind of got passed down. It’s just one of those side things that I always did and I wound up always doing it for my team because I could do it better than everyone else.
Q. You mentioned that your father, Greg, has coached football for about 30 years. What was it like growing up around a football family and to what degree did it help you grow as a player?
A. It’s a different world than most people see, even when you’re a fan you don’t really see that side of it. I probably have more knowledge based on being in the coach’s family than I do as an actual player. You see a different side of the game and it kind of forms a different thought process for what’s going on whether it be in a game, dealing with coaches, or even dealing with other players. So it’s helped me to become what I am today and helped me create a good work ethic to give me all the traits to succeed at where I am today.
Q. What was it like transitioning from a small college town at Baker University to the big city to play for the New York Jets?
A. The area we’re in is not too much different, maybe a little more packed together with a bunch of small towns right next to each other here in New Jersey. The city however is a big difference. Even when I was in Dallas in high school there wasn’t all those people packed into a little area as everything is really spread out. In high school I played in front of anywhere between 1,200-1,500 people on Fridays, in college it was 5,000 people on the weekends, that was the biggest difference that I experienced. I get a different mindset going into professional games to the point where I don’t even really hear the fans. Walking down the street and somebody knowing who you are or my wife goes somewhere and they recognize her name because she’s wearing a Jets t-shirt, that’s certainly a little different. The game itself is one of those things where you’re playing with the best of the best and as you practice and take more reps at it, it becomes easier so every year it becomes less of a shock and easier to handle. Overall, culturally it was a little different, but football is football whether playing in front of 100,000 people or playing in front of nobody.
Q. Playing in front of that many people must’ve been difficult early in your career. Were there any nerves when you first started off?
A. Yes and no. I’ve always trained myself and had coaches teach me along the way, including my dad, to just play the game and everything will take care of itself. Having been a quarterback all throughout high school and college I feel I’m a little different in the nerves category. The more difficult situation, the higher the stakes, the worse the weather, the better I play. It could be pouring rain and I’m out there with a smile on my face having fun because, guess what, now you’re just as slow as I am! So the nerves have never been a factor for me, but that’s just a testament to how much I’ve practiced. I just focus on what I’m doing and every little detail and the nerves and everything else are just in the background.
Q. You were given tryouts with the Seahawks and Packers and even had a short stint in Kansas City but nothing ever came of them. How difficult was it to persevere through those initial failures to become the success story that you are?
A. A tryout’s a tryout. It was exciting to have the opportunity to take part, but at the time I was at my second college coaching. I had gone back to Baker and I had been coaching for 2 years so it’s one of those things where I would just keep working and their feedback would give me something else that I need to work on and it would be another step in the right direction. I would probably say it was more difficult having to push through and get over getting released by Kansas City. Once you finally get on the team and you’re there for a while and then getting released in the preseason, I mean, that was more difficult than just going for a tryout.
Q. I read that you were actually recommended to the Jets through former punter Louie Aguiar. Can you describe your relationship with Louie and what his recommendation meant for you?
A. Yeah Louie’s a family friend of my wife. Her dad played with [former NFL punter] Kelly Goodburn at Iowa State and he met Louie during his time in Kansas City with the Chiefs. Louie had a camp that Kelly would help out with every now and then. My senior year, my wife and I were dating at the time and we went to a preseason game and we were hanging out with Louie and Kelly who were ambassadors for the [Chiefs]. It was after halftime and we were chatting with them in the parking lot and they get into one of those “old guy” arguments over who could still punt farther in the parking lot of a preseason game and my father-in-law says “hey let Tanner snap it to you guys”. I’m sitting there in cowboy boots and jeans and can hardly bend it over. I snap them a couple and they both go “you need to gain about 40 pounds because you could do this for a career”. So I started gaining some weight and I went out to Louie’s camp for a couple of years and got some looks there which is how I got the tryouts and everything and I was lucky enough to hit up Louie and throw his name in the hat and get a job in a couple of years.
Q. You’ve now played 7 years in the NFL. What are some of your favorite moments in your NFL career?
A. A lot of my favorite memories happen in the off season where I could just hang out with the people who have been there, I’d say that’s more fun and memorable than some of the games. Game-wise I’d say my rookie year when we kicked the game winning field goal against the Colts in the playoffs. That was pretty memorable because you beat Peyton Manning and you turn around and go kick-for-kick with “Mr. Clutch” himself, [Adam] Vinatieri and we get the last laugh in kicking the ball through the uprights and winning the game. And you turn around the next week and we beat the Patriots and the silence in that stadium is probably something that will stick with me forever. How quiet everything was, usually they’re just kind of loud and they’re not very nice fans (author’s side note: this was probably my favorite part of the interview). Just the utter silence and the people that were leaving early, it was awesome.
Q. Who were some of your favorite players to play with? What are some of the best relationships you’ve made thus far?
A. The good and bad thing with the Jets is that we go through so many guys. We develop young guys and as soon as they get around to where they’re playing well and they deserve a little bit of money they wind up going somewhere else. I’d say Nick Folk and I work well together, we know each other pretty well. Currently, since he got released he comes to my house and works out with me in the basement. Early on I’d probably say Eric Smith and Brad Smith; those guys really took me under their wing and taught me a lot of things, special teams-wise. How much experience they had, how great of players they were, they were versatile players on special teams. Moving forward your role starts to shift a little as you’re around the game more. Garrett McIntyre was one of the guys I hung around with a lot as well as Nick Bellore. Konrad Reuland was a good friend and his passing this past year wasn’t easy. As for guys this year, Josh Martin and Rontez Miles, I’ve tried to take them under my wing and teach them. Not just X’s and O’s, but mental stuff including the things that I’ve learned along the way that helped. Those are probably the guys I’d say that have made this experience pretty enjoyable.
Q. Was there any specific moment where you realized that you had made it?
A. Every day you wake up and you get to work out and you get to play football for a living. You walk into the stadium and say “wow this is cool”, but it’s having been in the real world and having coached and not going from being a player in college to being in the pros with that 3 year gap in there. The “real life” as most people would say was a little different for me. You know with coaching, I’m waking up at 5-6 AM to go start my day and I’m not getting home until 11 or 12. To where as a player, I wake up at probably 6 or 7 AM and I’m done and home by 6 o’clock. It’s a heck of a lot easier being a player time-wise I could guarantee you that. It’s just one of those things where you wake up every morning and you say “wow this is my job”.
Q. You mentioned your coaching career prior to the NFL. You’re one of the few NFL players with a master’s degree. How important is it for college athletes to get a good education outside of their athletic careers?
A. Having grown up as the coach’s son, I see how many kids, at all levels, want to have their dream of going to the NFL, but they also need to realize the reality of the situation and the chances of that actually happening. So when you have the opportunity to play for a scholarship and you could play and get an education, that’s a huge deal. Especially for me being not only the coach’s son, but my mom’s a professor at Baylor, and both of my degrees are in education. So it’s something that when I have my kids camps, I stress to them that they shouldn’t give up on their dreams, you always want to have your dreams, but you also need to have a realistic plan to fall back on. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought I would be in the NFL. You could have asked me, and my mom tells me this all the time, you would ask me what I would want to do when I grew up and I would tell you I was going to be a college football coach, and that’s at 3 years old. So the NFL thing is one of those things where it’s a dream to do and I’m lucky that I’ve been able to pursue it, but I always kept my head level enough to know that I needed to get my education; I needed that to be able to coach and do those things. Even a lot of the D-1 guys leave school and then go and do nothing but train, and then they don’t graduate. And it just shocks me that they’ll just throw away 3 and a half years of time, school, and education that they put their effort into for that one chance and just throw it all away when you graduate in less than a year. It just dumbfounds me when it comes to the whole process of the combine, tryouts, and stuff like that. To me education is more important. If I’m a coach and I see a player that has a decent tryout and has the tools, but he’s still going to school and he didn’t just stop going to class, I would put more stock in that than the best athlete in the world because that’s somebody I could depend on, that’s somebody who wants to get better, not just in football but in life.
Q. Lastly, do you have any advice for young athletes trying to make it in the NFL or any professional organization for that matter?
A. Physically I’d say it’s the “10,000 hour rule” basically. You need to perfect your craft to the minutest detail. You need to be so good at it that you could do it without thinking and whatever it is, whether you’re playing golf, baseball, football or whatever sport you are performing, you shouldn’t be thinking, you should be reacting. So if you’re thinking while you’re doing it, you haven’t practiced enough. School-wise I think if you could get a scholarship, go for it. If you can’t and you still want to play it, walk on and do it. There are plenty of guys who have gone and walked on and earned a scholarship and made their way to the NFL and done it that way. That goes for anything in life, whatever you want to do, whatever you want to pursue, I’d say just pursue it until you achieve it. Don’t stop, don’t quit, nothing great in life comes from something simple and easy, it’s always hard to get there.