DiSalvo goes from walk-on to Division I starter

When Ryan DiSalvo graduated from San Benito High in 2011, he faced a similar situation that thousands of standout prep athletes in the country face: He wasn’t offered an athletic scholarship despite being a productive football player at the prep level.
But DiSalvo was out to prove he was worthy of a scholarship, so he decided to continue playing football at San Jose State, which was one of the few schools that gave him preferred walk-on status.
That meant DiSalvo could earn a scholarship after one year if everything went well. It didn’t take long for the 6-foot-4, 250-pound sophomore to leave his mark.
Last year as a freshman, DiSalvo started all 13 games as the team’s long snapper. He’s about to repeat that feat again this year for the Spartans (5-6 overall, 4-3 Mountain West Conference), who play host to Fresno State on Saturday in their regular-season finale. A victory would make SJSU bowl-eligible.
“It’s been a great experience being here,” DiSalvo said. “The program has helped me develop as a player, just how I planned it when I came in here.”
DiSalvo was a versatile talent at San Benito, playing defensive end, tight end and linebacker in addition to his long snapping duties. He was recruited for three positions — long snapper, defensive end and tight end — but quickly developed a niche for long snapping.
“Early on I felt I could come in as a long snapper and do the job well,” DiSalvo said. “That was the plan anyway.”
The situation couldn’t have worked out any better for DiSalvo, who is currently ranked as the No. 3 long snapper in the class of 2016 NFL Draft prospects.
“Making the NFL is my No. 1 goal,” he said. “But that’s a long ways away and something I try not to think about too much. I’m focusing on preparing myself the best I can, and that means perfecting my routine.”
DiSalvo’s routine consists of keeping himself loose and relaxed before trotting out onto the field to snap the ball to his punter or place holder. He accomplishes this by cracking jokes with some of his teammates before going through a mental checklist as he’s about to snap the ball.
“You can’t go out there all wound up,” he said. “Before I’m about to snap the ball, I tell myself to snap it hard, snap it fast and put it on the hip (of the punter). I basically block everything else out and hone in on execution.”
In terms of execution, DiSalvo has achieved high marks. Although DiSalvo gets graded by a couple of San Jose State coaches, the biggest criticisms come from himself.
“I look at my own film and grade myself a lot,” he said. “I want every snap to be perfect, so I go over every snap on film and look to see what I can improve on.”
DiSalvo’s willingnesss to perfect his craft has taken him a long way. Although long snappers are rarely taken in the NFL Draft — they’re usually acquired as undrafted free agents — there’s a premium place for them in the league because every team has a specialized long snapper. Gone are the days when the backup fullback or tight end would also serve as the long snapper.
That could position DiSalvo for a great opportunity to make an NFL roster in 2016. The best long snappers can send the ball spiraling in a sharp arc at 52 mph, on the hip of a punter 100 out of 100 times.
They also have to be able to rumble down the field and make a tackle, something DiSalvo has the instinct and ability to do since he played linebacker for several years. Basically, DiSalvo seemingly has the physical skill set necessary to one day make an NFL roster. He also knows long snapping is a thankless job.
The only time anyone mentions a long snapper’s name is when a snap sails well short or past the punter or holder. Just one inaccurate snap — yes, one — means the long snapper could be out of a job the next day.
DiSalvo credits renowned long snapping guru Chris Rubio for helping him develop into one of the best long snappers in college football.
“I’ve been able to hone in on specific things I needed to work on to be the best,” DiSalvo said. “I know I can get the job done, and I’m confident in my ability to get the ball where it needs to be.”

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