Photos of the Buccaneers' long snapper.
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For his first four years after graduating from college, Andrew DePaola worked at Best Buy or his parents' restaurant – anything to make ends meet. All the while, he held tight to his dream of playing in the National Football League.
DePaola doesn't consider himself an underdog, but for an undrafted, former college walk-on who made his NFL debut as a 27-year-old rookie, he seems to fit the part.
He was always a gifted athlete and was always involved in sports. While in high school in Maryland, DePaola was a talented quarterback, leading Hereford High School to a state championship and another appearance in the finals. He also played baseball and basketball. His heart was set on playing football, but he didn't have much interest from Division I schools.
"I had offers," DePaola said, "but they were all from smaller schools, D2 and DIAA. Really Rutgers was the only Division I school that took a good, hard look at me to offer me a walk-on spot."
"I wanted to give the big time, Division I, a shot," DePaola added. "I always knew that there was a possibility that if it didn't work out, that I could transfer down. But I wanted to give it a shot to see how I compared to the best of the best."
DePaola enrolled at Rutgers as a quarterback and served on the school's scout team, in addition to acting as the holder for field goals and extra points. He moved to wide receiver midway through his college career before an injury opened up a position on special teams.
"They had been looking for guys who could long snap, just in case of an emergency," DePaola said. "I had always done it, even as a little kid. It was something my dad could do. We would be messing around and he would practice it with my brothers and I and I would always try it. It was something that kind of came natural."
"In college, when they were looking for back-up guys, I just offered and said it was something I would be able to do. The coaches told me to work on it every day before practice and just keep in there in my back pocket in case they needed me. Unfortunately, it took an injury for them to need me but I was ready when my number was called. Ironically, it happened against USF in Raymond James Stadium."
DePaola served as Rutgers' starting long snapper for the remainder of his junior season and entered his senior year with a starting spot after his predecessor had graduated.
He was praised by Rutgers' coaching staff for his consistency, yet never saw long snapping in the NFL in his future.
"At the time, to be honest, I didn't think I would be able to make it to the NFL as a long snapper," he said. "Being a long snapper now, I understand a lot of the ins and outs of the special teams positions. But if you're not in it it's really hard to understand this world. I honestly didn't think that was an avenue I could take until probably in the middle of camp my coaches had talked to me about maybe snapping at the next level."
It took until midway through his senior season for DePaola to hang up his dreams of playing wide receiver and focus on long snapping full-time. He put some weight onto his 6-2, 210-pound frame and worked with two Rutgers alum who were long snapping in the NFL.
At the conclusion of his college career, he had put together an unblemished long snapping portfolio. When the NFL Draft came along, he didn't expect to get drafted. But a phone call from the New Orleans Saints was the next best thing.
"I was fortunate enough to get a call during the draft from the Saints saying that they were inviting me to their rookie mini-camp the following weekend for a try-out," Depaola said. "They said that if I didn't get any calls from any other teams, that they would love to have me."
"That was surreal at the moment. I just graduated college, you get a call on draft day, you're not getting drafted but to a guy like me, it didn't matter. Just getting a call from an NFL team saying that they wanted to take a look at you, it was unbelievable. It was like my dreams were falling into place."
But his time in New Orleans would be short-lived. He did not make the team and returned home – to wait.
For that next year, DePaola was out of football. The following summer he had a one-day tryout with Patriots but didn't stick. A second year out of football followed. At times, he doubted that he would ever reach his goal. But his support system kept him on track.
"During those two years, I was training," DePaola said, "doing things just to keep busy and make ends meet – odd jobs here and there. I was very fortunate to have a great family, two loving parents and three very supportive siblings. Every time a little doubt would creep in, those five people in my life were the quickest to squash it immediately. Doubt's going to creep in after a year, a year and a half of not hearing anything and they were right there to say, 'Listen, you're so close, just keep at it.'"
"I would snap a few days a week, work a few days with my trainers up at Rutgers. I worked at Best Buy for a little over a year, hourly there. I worked at my parents' restaurant for a little bit. Anything just to make ends meet and keep the dream alive."
Then, after two full years out of the game, he got a phone call from a familiar voice. It was then-Buccaneers' head coach Greg Schiano, his former college coach.
"He gave me a call and he said, 'Hey, don't mess with me. How's your weight? Have you been training? Have you been snapping?'"
"I told him I had. My weight was where it should be. I told him I was snapping every couple days a week and that I hadn't waivered in my training. So he invited me to come in for a tryout."
The Bucs had DePaola try out with five other long snappers. He was the only one the team invited to stay for the remaining three days of the team's OTAs.
"After that they told me they were going to have another tryout in July with a few more snappers. Then they said they would make a decision and give me a call. Right around mid to late July they called me back and said that I was the guy that they were going to go with in camp. I would just be a camp-body, a camp guy. At the time they had Andrew Economos, who was a heck of a long snapper. He was their guy and they wanted me to come in and take some reps from him and put together some film and get my name out there."
"I got the call on a Sunday and they told me to hurry up and get to the airport and that my flight was in two hours. I was ready."
DePaola competed with Economos in the Bucs' training camp for three weeks and played in three pre-season games, but was cut after the third preseason game. A third season out of football followed before the Bucs called at the end of the season to inform him that they were signing him to a futures contract for 2013.
"In 2012, I was more of a camp body. In 2013 they really let me and Eco (Economos) compete for the spot in training camp. When they called me to the office to tell me that I had gotten cut, I immediately went up to Eco and congratulated him. I was just so fortunate to work with a guy like him. It didn't seem like we were competing against each other, it seemed like we were competing with each other."
A fourth year out of college and DePaola still hadn't made an NFL roster. Schiano, whom he had a close relationship with, would not return to the Buccaneers for the 2014 season. But neither would Economos.
"I got a call in April of 2014 from the Bucs saying that they wanted to sign me and that I could compete for their starting job. They said the job wasn't set in stone and there was a shot to win the job."
"Just like anything in my life, all I needed was a shot. I was so excited that it was happening again. I accepted their offer an flew down two days later."
Training camp went on and the Bucs' first cut-down day approached. DePaola kept his phone close.
"Maybe five o'clock hit and I heard that our cuts had been released. I looked at the cuts online and I saw that the other long snapper who I was competing with had been released."
"I was so excited to know that I was still going to stick around. I didn't think that I had the job locked up at the time because they still had another round of cuts, but I was able to still be around and still show the guys what I could do."
DePaola did win the spot. And after four long years, he finally made his rookie debut against the Carolina Panthers on September 7. He was 27, six years older than first-round draft pick, Mike Evans.
He finished the season as the Bucs' starter. Bucs fans might not know his name. For a long snapper, that means he did his job.
"This season was everything I could have dreamed up. Just to know that you're out there on the field with some of those guys, it's really a humbling feeling."
"But I've always been taught, ever since I was a little kid, that nothing is given to you and that you have to earn everything. The season just ended but I'm training and getting ready for next year. There's always someone trying to take your job. There's probably someone out there just like me trying to take my job. I have to be ready for whatever comes up next." PHOTOS