James Dearth was a fine Division II tight end at Tarleton State, but he received some valuable advice following his senior season.
"I was about to go play in an all-star game and my agent asked, 'Hey, why don't you try snapping?' I said, 'I could try it.' He said, 'Well you can throw a football. All you have to do is throw it in between your legs. Tell Chuck Noll you want to snap.'"
Dearth, who had never snapped before, wound up snapping for the Hall of Fame coach's team in the Florida Gridiron Classic. Then he snapped for pro scouts at the combine workouts and was eventually selected by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round of the 1999 NFL Draft.
"He showed me that I was using one hand more than the other and you kind of have to use them both the same," Dearth said of Noll. "You can't grip the ball too tight. He'd show me that kind of stuff. I was actually gripping it with my thumb too tight. He had me move my thumb. It was just straight back and I was throwing it to the left."
The Browns parted ways with Dearth after a short stay and the Titans did the same, but he didn't leave Tennessee without an aerial feat. The 6'4", 270-pounder has a pretty good arm and he actually started his collegiate career as a quarterback at Tulsa before converting to tight end at Tarleton.
"When I was in Tennessee in '01, I threw a ball 84 yards. Guys wanted me to throw the ball deep, so I just tossed one to Neil O' Donnell," he said. "I threw it to him from the 20 into the end zone and they liked that, they were pretty excited about that."
Despite Dearth's arm strength, Tulsa didn't wait long to make the 250-pounder a fullback. After his transfer, he had 77 catches for 992 yards and nine TDs in three seasons with the Tarleton Texans.
He didn't find his professional home here in New York until 2001.
"I came here for a job and I expected to win the job. I don't go in somewhere and expect to lose a job," he said. "I didn't know how long I'd be here — that's something nobody knows. You are just thankful for the time you have when you are here and fortunately I have been here for seven years now, so it's a blessing."
Dearth has become a reliable afterthought for most Green & White fans. He does his job, snapping to Ben Graham on punts and also to the big Aussie for Mike Nugent placements.
He's been under the same coordinator for his entire Jets tenure.
"My relationship with Coach [Mike] Westhoff is great. Obviously, if I mess up, he is going to let me know," he said. "As far as special teams go, I try to help him out with every aspect."
All the snaps haven't been perfect. Think back to 2001 when John Hall nailed his 53-yard field goal into the face of Oakland's Black Hole, clinching an improbable playoff berth
"Tom Tupa made a great hold and that's the thing people don't even realize. Tupa made it look like it wasn't even a bad snap even though it was a little low," Dearth said. "It was real low — it was about two inches off the ground — and he catches it and sets it down like nothing."
The Jets have four other tight ends on their roster, so Dearth isn't likely to see any offensive playing time. But in reserve duty back in '01, he registered the only three catches of his career.
"My first catch was a fake punt and that was pretty exciting, I was pretty happy to get that. And I caught a ball against New England," he said. "It's always good to catch a ball — it's kind of a big rush. The touchdown was awesome. It was from Vinny Testaverde. It is just an awesome feeling to catch a ball. You dream about it all your life."
The likelihood of Dearth ever catching a pass again on offense is slim. The Jets' long-snapper just keeps his head down until he releases the football to Graham. If it's a punt, he attempts to free his teammates up.
"Immediately after the ball leaves my hands, I'm bobbing my head up," he said. "It is something that happens pretty fast for me because I take pride in blocking as well. I like to be a guy who can block and pick for my guards. I try to get a good snap and get my head up pretty quick so I can help my guards out and get them free running down the field because they can tackle better than me."
The often forgotten position requires a player to trust the players behind him. Looking across at the defenders is nothing more than a distraction.
"If they are rushing you, you want to be able to be disciplined because I can't see where they're coming from. My fullback tells me, 'Hey, they're coming from this way. You need to here.' I need to be disciplined in getting back and getting to where I need to be," he said. "Sometimes it's hard because you may feel pressure on one side of you and you may want to go that way and you can't see anything. Sometimes you start thinking, 'Maybe he made a mistake.' But he's always right."
Dearth, who credits Graham for having great hands, has more often been right than not. He's come a long way from that Florida Gridiron Classic.
"I don't think anybody's ever arrived," he said. "I have a lot of room to work and get better."