Oct. 7, 2004
By Greg Touney
Throughout the season, Notre Dame head football coach Tyrone Willingham has asked players and fans alike to “bring the noise.”
Don’t blame senior Casey Dunn, though, for preferring to keep silent.
As the team’s long snapper on punts, Dunn’s job with the Irish is the rarest of roles, where success can be measured in anonymity and only the most devoted of Notre Dame fans can probably recall his name. Chances are that he will only be noticed if a snap goes wrong, a fact not lost on Dunn.
“Obviously, you know that as a long snapper, you’re not going to be the number-one guy on the team,” Dunn says.
“It doesn’t really bother me at all. I’d rather have people not know who I was than to have them know who I was because of a bad snap.”
Irish fans have little to worry about in terms of Dunn making a mistake. Dating back to last year, the Miami, Fla., native has successfully executed 106 consecutive snaps.
While Dunn’s job may sound uncomplicated, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Other than the obvious snapping of the football, he must pay attention to the alignment of the defense, endure verbal distractions from the defensive line, find his block and then hustle downfield to make a play on the returner.
“Once [we set up protection], it’s my job to snap the ball and get it to our punter as fast as I can, then find my matchup and block,” Dunn explains. “It sounds simple but not really.
“You just have to focus on the punter and make sure you get a good snap first and try not to worry so much about the blocking. If we don’t get a good snap, we’re not going to get a good punt off.”
Dunn has proven his worth in more than just long-snapping this year. During Notre Dame’s Sept. 11 home game against Michigan, Wolverine returner Steve Breaston muffed a D.J. Fitzpatrick punt. After a frenzied scrum to recover the ball, the referees sorted out the pile and Dunn hopped up, thrusting the pigskin in the air.
“When the ball hit the ground, I saw it bouncing everywhere,” Dunn recalls. “I just leapt over two guys and dove at it.
“Once I got it in my hands, I kept saying `Don’t let go, don’t let go’.”
The fumble recovery enabled Dunn to experience something he had not felt before – namely, 80,000 people cheering for him and some deserved media attention after the game.
“The team and I were all laughing because I was fortunate enough to get a turnover for us,” Dunn remembers. “I actually got interviewed for that and people were joking that I got interviewed for a good thing.”
The 6-4 senior has shown the dedication, persistence and team-first attitude necessary to succeed. He entered the college football scene as a walk-on, determined to find a spot on the squad. When coaches asked him if he had any experience long-snapping, Dunn recalled his high school days.
“In high school, I only long-snapped two games toward the end of my career because two other guys got hurt,” Dunn says.
“When I got here, they asked if I’d ever done it before so I said, `Sure, I’ve done it twice’.”
It took Dunn a while to get down the nuances of the college game. Whereas high school requires less attention to blocking during punts, the senior says, college football demands more attention be paid to protecting the punter. Dunn worked hard to refine his game and when long-snapping duties opened up, he was more than ready to step up.
As Dunn’s college football career comes to a close, he has been able to take much from his experience here at Notre Dame.
“I can definitely say that not just through classes and being in college but mainly through football I’ve learned a lot about my limits, what I can push myself to do, and what I can accomplish if I work hard at it,” Dunn explains.
“Having to wake up on Saturday mornings at 5:45 a.m. just for a 6:30 workout teaches you a lot about your amount of dedication and how much you care about things. If you really want to get it done, that’s what you’ll do.
“A lot of times you’re in the weight room or out running and thinking, `Why am I here? Do I really want to be doing this?’ But deep down, I’m here for a reason. That’s because we want to get out there and get better, play harder, play faster and get stronger.”
Dunn’s importance and success on the field may not always get him noticed in the stands or in the media, but his confident demeanor is reflected in his solid and dependable play for the Irish. In his own quiet way, Casey Dunn is doing the best he can to “wake up the echoes” of Notre Dame football.