Kevin O’Mary looked under his legs, ready to snap the ball into his own end zone. He had to focus on one man, the punter, amidst the noise of 61,000 taunting and screaming fans at the University of Virginia’s Scott Stadium. His first collegiate snap was seconds away.
Players for BYU’s special teams — the squad that comes onto the field for punts, kickoffs and other special plays — live a life of pressure in which anything less than perfection is not accepted. Players for the special teams unit each have their own story explaining how they became a vital part of the Cougars’ team.
“Being a long snapper is surprisingly a very satisfying position,” said O’Mary, BYU’s deep snapper for the second straight season. “Coach has told us several times that every time we go out there as a unit we have the opportunity to increase our team’s chances of winning.”
O’Mary, a high school quarterback from San Diego, California, graduated from high school in 2007 and was soon afterward baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He walked away from several quarterback scholarships to try and earn a spot on BYU’s football team. After his hopes of playing for the team didn’t work out his freshman year, O’Mary focused on his schooling and took a two-year leave of absence to serve a mission in Guatemala.
“I gained about 30 pounds on my mission, and I just wasn’t the same physically. I took a break from football for a while and focused again on working towards my degree,” he said. “It wasn’t until my senior year last year that I decided to come give football another shot.”
After initially trying to walk on as a defensive lineman in 2013, O’Mary showed the coaches his talents in deep snapping and won the position.
O’Mary’s first-ever collegiate snap was at the University of Virginia, as he had to snap to his punter, who was standing in BYU’s end zone.
This was also Scott Arellano’s first collegiate punt.
Arellano walked onto the BYU football team in 2012 and won the starting punting position for the 2013 season, ending the year ranked 11th among all FBS Division I-A punters.
Arellano was a highly sought-after recruit his junior and senior years of high school. He was a star offensive and defensive player at Santa Ynez High School in Southern California. After some life-changing circumstances took him and his wife away from BYU and around the western United States, Arellano decided to return and try to live his dream of playing for the Cougars. Now he is one of the best punters and holders in the nation.
“It’s awesome to watch how hard he’s worked and to see it pay off,” said Steven Bowers, one of Arellano’s good friends from high school. “It’s so cool to see him in a BYU jersey and to be punting as well as he is.”
Arellano admits punting and holding are often overlooked but are some of the most pressure-filled positions on the field.
“The thing about punting is all eyes are on you,” Arellano said. “It’s not like any other position on the field; you’re under a microscope, and you’re expected to be perfect or close to it with every single kick.”
Arellano’s father, a Division-II champion punter for California Polytechnic State University in 1980, taught him how to kick a football. This unique skill set landed him a chance to prove his worth, not only to the Cougars but to the college football world.
Arellano’s wife and two young children watch every Cougar football game.
“The most anxious I’ve ever been was last year when they were playing Texas,” said Lexi Arellano, Scott Arellano’s wife. “Scott got hit hard twice during that game, and they only threw a flag on one of the plays. Sometimes it’s so unnerving to watch, but it’s been so amazing seeing him live his dream.”
Scott Arellano is also the holder for the team’s kickers. In a short space of time, usually under 1.5 seconds, he’s expected to catch the snap from O’Mary, turn the laces outward and position the ball in the exact place the kicker is expecting it. He loves being an asset to the team in several different ways.
Vance “Moose” Bingham won the starting kicking position after spring camp of this year and hopes to retain the No. 1 spot throughout fall camp and into the season.
Bingham hopes to learn from Scott Arellano and the other seasoned players around him, as this will be his first year when he has a chance at starting. Fortunately, he said, the players on their unit are great friends and have respect for each other.
“When there’s 50, 60 or even 100,000 people screaming in your face you just have to keep your composure,” Bingham said. “Arellano exemplifies that; he’s just a machine. The guy is one of the best punters in the nation and probably one of the best holders as well.”
One thing Scott Arellano, Bingham and O’Mary emphasized was their unity and readiness in anticipation for this 2014 season. They hope to continue to add value to their team in its tough schedule.
“We’ve worked really hard this past summer,” Scott Arellano said. “Since I’ve been here, this has been the closest band of a special teams unit I’ve been a part of, and I’m excited to see it pan out.”