Nov. 16, 2016
By Denise Skwarcan
Scott Daly grew up playing baseball.
He loved the sport.
He dreamed of playing in The Show.
He also is a native of Downers Grove, Illinois, a southwestern suburb of Chicago.
But his heart belongs to the north side or, more specifically, the Northsiders. So he couldn’t have been happier when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
“I have been a Cubs fan since I was 5 years old, and that was incredible,” Daly says. “For myself and my family it was just a special moment to watch them have the year they had–the last two years even–and to do it the way they did it was pretty special.”
Considering Daly’s passion for the game, then, it was difficult for him to eventually put baseball aside and pursue football. But in the end focusing on his long-snapping duties, something he had started doing in the fifth grade, ultimately gave him the best collegiate opportunity.
“It was definitely tough,” Daly says when asked about choosing between the two sports.
“I still love baseball. I love playing it. I love watching it. So it definitely took a long time to sit down and really think about the pros and the cons each offered me at the end of the day.
“Ultimately, though, I felt that over time–and even though I was working really hard–I just wasn’t separating myself as a top-tier baseball player. By that point I was also starting to put in a lot of time and effort into football, and I saw the results paying off.
“I couldn’t be happier with my choice. It brought me to one of the greatest universities in the world.”
Notre Dame feels the same way. After all, Daly has been the team’s long snapper since his sophomore campaign in 2013. He was perfect on 126 snapping opportunities last season and continues to do his job anonymously…which means he’s doing it correctly. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine Daly became one of the best long snappers in the country simply because there was really no one else on his high school team capable of doing the job.
“I was really the only kid who could snap half-way decently and get it back there without much error,” Daly says. “And I didn’t think much about it at the time. But then my sophomore year in high school my head coach, who kicked at Illinois State, took an interest in me and told me that if I really worked at it I could definitely have a chance of playing at the college level.”
At Downers Grove High School South, the 6-1 Â½, 250-pound Daly helped his squad to a 10-2 record as a senior before losing in the Illinois Class 8A state quarterfinals. It was that year in which Daly also scored the only two touchdowns of his career as a tight end, a position he had only started playing the previous year. The first score would have been special simply because it was the first, but it was even a little bit more special for Daly because of a promise he made.
“It was my dad’s birthday that day and I told him I would get one for his birthday, and I was able to come through,” Daly says. “It was definitely a special moment, a great memory from high school. And playing tight end was a lot of fun. I do miss it.”
By this time, however, Daly’s work as a long snapper had already begun to intensify. He went to several camps which really elevated his level of play, and a big part of that growth came at the hands of Chris Rubio, the former UCLA long snapper who remains Daly’s long-snapping instructor to this day. During the recruitment process, Daly received interest from some Division III schools to play tight end, but Daly knew long snapping was going to take him to the highest possible collegiate level.
What Daly didn’t know was that, despite growing up relatively close to the northern Indiana campus, he would end up playing for the Irish, a program about which he knew almost nothing.
“I wasn’t even a college football fan up until my freshman year in high school,” Daly says. “And I didn’t know much about Notre Dame football until I started getting recruited. But once I came to campus and went to my first game, I was hooked.”
In addition to Rubio, Daly also credits taekwondo and yoga as interests that have helped him be a better long snapper. He earned a black belt in the former as a sixth grader, and took up the latter after Rubio made the suggestion.
“I’m not involved with taekwondo anymore, but it was something I really enjoyed,” Daly says. “The traits and things I learned like discipline, the mental aspect and just overall respect for myself and others really carried over into playing sports and just with life in general.
“Then I started doing yoga about six or seven years ago to help with injury prevention and overall flexibility which are key things to be a great long snapper. I just fell in love with it. It’s great for the mind, for the soul and, more importantly, for football as well.
Like a punter or a kicker, Daly’s playing time is often limited, even as a starter. In high school he was on the field frequently as a tight end and a long snapper, so Daly had to transition to just one position once he arrived at Notre Dame. But he says he managed to find a routine and a rhythm that allows him to stay engaged during practices and games. A big part of his focus comes from knowing that he is physically and mentally prepared to do his job–one which he really enjoys and thinks he’s pretty good at, too.
“I love that I have to strive for perfection every time,” Daly says. “It may not happen every time, but I love that pressure. I love the idea of trying to be perfect–on the snap, with the location, getting the laces right on extra points and field goals. Absolutely love it.
“And I think I have the mental capacity for it. You have to have the mindset and confidence that you can go out there and be perfect. That comes with preparation. I prepare as hard as I can and I do that by making sure my muscle memory is down and my form and technique are as sound as possible. So when I go out there on game day in front of 80,000 people, I know I have the mental confidence to be perfect.”
Daly notes that, aside from the distance of snapping on punts, he makes only subtle changes between snapping for field goals, PATs and punts.
“On field goals and extra points I take just a little bit off my speed to make sure the snap is a lot more accurate,” Daly says. “But I do enjoy punts because I can go downfield and possibly make a tackle.”
Of which he has been credited with four so far in his Irish career. Otherwise, if you know very little about Daly or don’t quite recognize his name, that’s fine with him.
“I love the anonymity and you have to embrace it,” Daly says. “To be able to go out there on the field and people not know who I am means that I’m doing my job very, very well. Off the field, it’s rare that I get recognized unless I’m wearing a Notre Dame shirt or the person is a huge Notre Dame fan. That’s nice.”
Daly says it wasn’t a tough decision to return for a fifth and final year with the Irish and that taking a shot at the NFL is next on his list of things to do. Beyond that the Mendoza College of Business graduate would like to pursue a career as a financial adviser. But he still has some college football business to take care of first.
“It really was an easy choice because I wanted to be a part of this for as long as possible,” Daly says. “I love the campus, the football program, what it stands for, the whole spirit of it. I couldn’t pass up one more year.
“This year has been tough given the year we had last year and the high expectations we have every year. It’s been a learning experience and we’re still fighting through it. But I’ve had no second thoughts at all about coming back.”
Denise Skwarcan is a freelance journalist from Elkhart, Indiana.