By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – In the Virginia football media guide for 2017, Joe Spaziani is listed as a long-snapper/quarterback.
His position in this year’s guide? Long-snapper.
“I made a choice to focus and really take [long-snapping] seriously and kind of make a long-term commitment to it,” Spaziani said Tuesday morning after the 16th practice of training camp.
UVA opens the season Sept. 1 against Richmond at Scott Stadium.
Not long after joining the Cavaliers’ program as a walk-on in 2014, Spaziani began splitting time between long-snapper and quarterback. That arrangement continued through last season, UVA’s second under head coach Bronco Mendenhall, and during spring practice this year.
As he heads into his final college season, however, Spaziani has narrowed his focus.
“Coach Mendenhall talks about long-term commitment and how that can boost your performance and help make you get better, faster,” said Spaziani, a graduate student in UVA’s Curry School of Education. “I figured that’s what the team needed right now, and I saw it as an opportunity to up my game.”
For most of the 2016 season, linebacker Zach Bradshaw and then-tight end Richard Burney were the Wahoos’ primary long-snappers: the former on extra points and field goals, the latter on punts. But late-season injuries to both Bradshaw and Burney thrust Spaziani into a leading role, and he handled all the long-snapping in the Cavaliers’ final four games that year.
In 2017, he held the job for all 13 games. As the season progressed, the 6-2, 215-pound Spaziani recalled, “I got more comfortable, and the confidence made me better. But this spring, this summer and now through camp, I think I’ve definitely made strides in terms of technically being more sound and definitely being way more consistent. But last year was a great experience from a mindset standpoint.”
At the end of last season, Mendenhall hired Ricky Brumfield to coordinate the Cavaliers’ special teams. Brumfield previously held that position at several other schools, and he’s worked with numerous long-snappers during his coaching career.
“But this is the first I’ve coached a long-snapper that was a former quarterback,” Brumfield said with a smile.
His impression of No. 99?
“I think he carries himself as a leader,” Brumfield said. “He wants to be the hardest worker on the team and do everything he can for the team.”
Spaziani, a graduate of Hingham High School in Massachusetts, near Boston, is the older son of former Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani, who’s in his third year as defensive coordinator at New Mexico State. The elder’s Spaziani’s younger son, Andrew, a civil engineering major, transferred from New Mexico State to UVA this summer.
The family has deep roots in this college town. Frank Spaziani spent nine seasons as a UVA assistant under George Welsh, the final six as defensive coordinator, and has returned to Charlottesville periodically during Joe’s college years.
“He actually came up and visited here this spring and talked football with the staff,” Brumfield said.
His father, Spaziani said, “loves sitting in on the meetings with Coach Mendenhall and the defensive staff. He was happy to be up here, and I know the guys up here seem to like having him up here. It was definitely cool seeing him at practice.”
Spaziani, who was put on scholarship last summer, is on track to earn his master’s degree next spring. He plans to follow his father into coaching – eventually.
“I’ve never heard a coach say they wished they’d stopped playing earlier,” Spaziani said. “My plan is to play as long as I can.”
He has dual citizenship, having been born in Calgary when his father was coaching in the Canadian Football League, so the CFL might be an option for a capable long-snapper.
“If that time comes, that time comes,” Spaziani said. “Right now I’m just kind of focused on getting better and getting ready for Richmond.”
To prepare himself for the career he expects to have one day, Spaziani watches the Cavaliers’ coaches closely, studying their tactics and philosophies.
“I’ve got a couple notebooks,” he said. “I’ve got a little notebook I keep in my backpack. I’ve got one I bring to the team meeting, and then one at home.
“When I’m not actively doing work or practicing, I’m just observing and taking mental notes and just watching.”
Burney can still long-snap in an emergency, but he’s now a full-time defensive end. UVA’s freshman class includes Lee Dudley, a long-snapper who graduated from Woodberry Forest in the spring.
“It’s been good having Lee here,” Spaziani said. “The competition definitely has pushed me and helped me to stay focused and harness that pressure of the competition.”