Fourth and 20, ball on the 25-yard line with 10 seconds left and the Orangemen are down two.
The fate of the game doesn’t rest solely on kicker Collin Barber’s right foot. There is little that either head coach Paul Pasqualoni or special teams coach Chris White can do. At this point the most important man on the field is SU’s long snapper — walk-on Dave DeAmato.
DeAmato secured the long-snapper position, addressing Pasqualoni’s “number one question” coming into preseason camp. He beat fullback and co-captain Chris Davis and tight end Lenny Cusumano for the job.
“This kid has been more consistent than (Davis),” White said. “The first factor is the consistency of the snap. You can be the best blocker in the world, but if you can’t get it back there, you can’t play.”
When Davis struggled snapping near the end of camp, DeAmato had his chance.
“I feel real comfortable with him snapping,” Davis said. “It’s better for the team. At least I’ll know I pushed him.”
DeAmato could become the first walk-on to have a significant impact for SU since linebacker Joe Lusardi played in 1990 and 1991. Perhaps the only thing more impressive is that DeAmato secured what White calls the most technically difficult position in football.
“You’ve got to snap the ball, I mean throw a strike back there to the guy,” White said. “Plus you need to protect. The center just snaps the ball to the quarterback and then blocks someone. That’s probably the second hardest. But this is harder.”
DeAmato replaces two-year starting long-snapper Kwazi Leverette, who signed with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent.
“We’d try anyone, even someone coming off the street,” White said of SU’s search to replace Leverette. “We were hoping (DeAmato) could do something. Is he physically big enough to protect? We’ll find out real soon.”
Barber shared those concerns.
“He looks real good snapping,” he said. “It is a matter of whether he can block.”
That may be DeAmato’s toughest obstacle — he stands only 5-foot-11, 215 pounds. Because most punts and kicks are blocked when defenders slip between the guard and center, coaches usually prefer bigger long-snappers. But the position requires more mental strength than physical ability, DeAmato said.
“I have to be smarter and use better angles,” he said. “It’s really about being at the right place at the right time.”
That’s how DeAmato found his way on the roster in the first place.
Last year, when DeAmato was a teaching assistant for a public affairs class, he mentioned walking-on to co-worker Caitlin Montani.
“He expressed interest in trying out, and I know Jake Goldman,” said Montani. “When were we out, I introduced Jake to Dave.”
Syracuse sophomore Jake Goldman is the son of Dennis Goldman, SU’s wide receivers coach. DeAmato spent the last week of spring practice with the team, then spent his summer working out and holding a job at Johnny’s Pizza.
In the process, DeAmato not only got himself in better condition, but also earned the respect of his coaches and teammates.
“After Spring practice I kind of forgot about him,” Pasqualoni said. “I saw him in the summer, and he snapped pretty well. He clearly is the most consistent snapper, and he has good speed on the ball. Not only is he snapping the ball, but he’s also excited about getting down there in coverage. In practice, he’s been the one to make the tackle a couple times. He’s excited about it.”
“We didn’t think he’d be able to do it, but he’s really worked hard,” Davis said. “I think he’ll be all right. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him been able to handle the pressure.”
There will be plenty of pressure on DeAmato tonight when SU opens its season at Brigham Young.
“It’s one thing snapping by yourself and not getting rushed,” Barber said. “They just need to get used to doing it in a game situation. It is a different thing when you’ve got someone right in your face, smashing in your face right when you snap it.”
DeAmato welcomed the opportunity to make a name for himself this season.
“I’m pretty happy with my performance,” he said. “I just want a chance to show what I can do.”
Story originally published in The Daily Orange.