The following is a guest post from my friend and former Alabama long-snapper, Brian Selman. His discussion of the “battery”–PJ Fitzgerald, Brian Selman, and Leigh Tiffin–and our learning experiences is great advice for any specialist unit.
Enter Brian Selman…
Coach Saban often encourages his specialists to embrace a mentality like that of a sniper or assassin. The idea being that a sniper prepares at length to take one shot, so he better make it count. The world’s best snipers employ the help of a team to be able to execute their orders frequently consisting of a spotter and flanker.
No different than sniper teams, executing the kicking game at a high level requires the contributions of a team of specialists.
I was very blessed to have the opportunity to compete and contribute as the Alabama long snapper for the 2007 through 2009 seasons starting 41 consecutive games over that period. The amazing thing is that our kicker, Leigh Tiffin, and punter, PJ Fitzgerald, started every single one of those games alongside me. We literally grew up together on the field as a unit.
Our development from role players to difference makers follows an interesting progression. The gap from a talent level perspective between 2007 and 2009 was very marginal; however, the gap from an execution standpoint differed greatly.
I firmly believe the greatest change in our performance came from a collective buy-in to our unit and to each other.
I spent the 2007 season mostly concerned with my own personal performance. Heading into the 2008 season, I came to a striking realization: it wasn’t about me; it was about our unit and our team. I turned my focus from my own success to the success of our unit. I knew that for Leigh and PJ to be able to best do their jobs, I had to be perfect. It was my responsibility to throw strikes and give them the best opportunity for them to succeed as possible. Over the next two seasons, things took off.
The tape over the next two years shows it all. We opened the season against Clemson with a 54 yard bomb of a field goal followed by fist pumps, fist bumps, and head butts shared amongst the group celebrating collectively in our success. Every kick for the next two seasons offered a similar showing of pride in performance between the three of us. I was fortunate to recover a fumble against Virginia Tech to start the 2009 season. My favorite memory of that play is not the recovery, but immediately after. When PJ saw me fall on the football, he took off on a dead sprint from twenty yards away, reared back and slapped me on the helmet as hard as he could almost to the point of concussion. I’ll never forget his enthusiasm and pride for me during that moment.
Specialists naturally experience a series of ups and downs over the course of a season. I believe facing those challenges as a unit is by far the best way to conquer them. Remember, “Two are better than one for they have a better return for their work. If one man falls, the other can pick him up. Pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Prior to the specialists taking the field every game, we would take a moment as a group at the end of the tunnel to go hands in and breakdown to our slogan for that season. In 2007 we used a slogan that had been passed down to us from previous years. Heading into 2008, we were looking for something to call our own. During training camp, a speaker shared with us a story about the people of Zimbabwe that lead us to our slogan for the next two seasons. As friends come across one another in Zimbabwe, they do not offer a “hello” or “what’s up?” They merely say to each other, “Are you strong?” The friend replies simply, “I’m strong if you’re strong.”
Regardless of what your role is within a specialist unit or any team in any arena for that matter, the collective success of the team depends on each individual part to execute their job to the best of their ability. So when it’s your turn to take your one shot, your one opportunity, remember this: your team is strong, if you’re strong, and vice versa.