Don’t underestimate the importance of having one of the nation’s top specialists on your roster. Tennessee and LSU sure haven’t.
Over the weekend, the Vols added the No. 3 rated long snapper in America when in-stater Riley Lovingood became the program’s eighth commitment for the class of 2015. His family has all kinds of connections to the program, as his father was once the program’s chaplain and other family members were student managers. Lovingood will very likely assume the program’s long snapping duties from day one in the fall of 2015, and he will likely end up a four-year starter. He was offered his scholarship one week ago today and tells Saturday Down South it was too good a situation to pass up.
Envision this, and you understand how key this position is: Tennessee is on the road at Georgia in 2016 and is ahead by one point with less than a minute remaining–the SEC East title is on the line. All the Vols need is a solid snap and a good punt out of their own endzone and they’ve likely sealed the division title. However, if the snapper launches one over the punter’s head through the endzone, they’ve handed Georgia a safety and the title. Or what if the punter has to lunge to reach the snap and only manages to flub a punt about 15 yards and out of bounds, setting up an easy field goal.
Now you know why Tennessee offered Lovingood a scholarship, instead of taking a risk with a less-heralded walk-on. LSU was smart too, it landed Blake Ferguson last fall–the No. 2 long snapper in the nation. He’ll be following in the footsteps of his brother, Reid Ferguson, who is currently the Tigers’ starter at the position.
“The long snapper is a lesser known but critical part of the team,” Lovingood told Saturday Down South after committing this weekend. “Your job is to snap perfectly every time so that the variables–whether it’s on the road or at the back of the endzone–don’t affect you.”
Lovingood is definitely a critical part of this class, one that is already rated No. 7 overall in the nation.
Along with his family connections to the Tennessee program, Lovingood also has a major connection to one of the Vols’ top 2014 signees–athlete Jalen Hurd. They both played for Beech High School in Hendersonville (Tenn.) last fall. Hurd was injured in the first game of the year and never returned to the field. They’ll reunite on Tennessee’s roster in 2015.
“It is very cool to be on the same team again,” Lovingood told SDS. “He kept talking to me about how we both need to be wearing orange together on Saturdays. Jalen is a great athlete who I’ve seen first hand dismantle defenses. I know that he brings so much to the Vols. It was tough to see him injured in the first game. He was a key part of our team and I saw him work through the injury to get back to where he was, if not stronger.”
Editor’s note: Saturday Down South’s references to ratings follow the 247Sports.com composite rankings for high school prospects.