James Dearth didn't long snap in high school or college. And he didn't do very well when he first tried it while practicing for the 1999 Gridiron Classic, a post-season college football all-star game played at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.
But it's funny what a tip from a four-time Super Bowl champion will do.
"I had never done it, and (former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer) Chuck Noll said, 'Hey, let me show you something,'" Dearth said. "I was snapping left and right and all over the place and he ended up showing me how to control the ball better by moving my thumb and just having me follow through. And it worked wonders for me. Chuck Noll really helped me a lot.
"And it was amazing because that was my dad's favorite coach. My dad's a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. When I let him know, I said, 'Hey, you'll never guess who my head coach is at the all-star game.' He flipped out. There's nobody that can say anything bad about Chuck Noll when he's around."
Drafted by the Cleveland Browns out of Tarleton State University in 1999, Dearth injured a quad muscle and saw action in only two games. He went to camp with the Tennessee Titans the following year and suffered a hamstring injury. In 2001, he signed with the Jets.
"When they brought me in, they wanted me to compete for the long snapping job and that's when I met (special teams coach) Mike Westhoff, and when all the real hard work began," Dearth said. "He worked my tail off training me to long snap.
"Mike, he's a whole nother level as far as a coach goes. His expectations are through the roof. He only wants perfection. I think what made him such a great coach is he wasn't willing to settle for anything less than everybody's best. And he brought that out of everybody.
"At first, I thought he was just being mean. And then I realized that's just his personality. He really cares about the game and cares about me as a person. He really tried to pull all my talent out. He was putting pressure on me and when he's putting that kind of pressure on you and you can perform in practice like that, it makes the game a lot easier."
With the Jets for nine seasons from 2001-09 under head coaches Herm Edwards, Eric Mangini, and Rex Ryan, Dearth was in a word – reliable.
In 153 games including playoffs, he snapped 686 times for punts, 300 times for field goals attempts, and 304 extra point tries. Those, collectively, were for 11 different punters and four different kickers.
Well respected by teammates, coaches, and fans alike, Dearth was considered a team player.
"I always knew that you can't win these games on your own. So, to be part of a team and be part of a family like that, it's just one of the ultimate compliments that you can get," Dearth said. "I think what makes me most proud of my career is that I came to work every day. I didn't just show up and take days off. I worked hard and did my job and I have no regrets because of that."
Something that Dearth will always remember from his time in New York occurred during his first season with the team – September 11, 2001.
"The Jets have always been a tightknit group of guys. And after 9/11 happened, we all stood firm together as a team and decided that we weren't going to play that following weekend," Dearth said. "I remember when we came back and played, just the unity that came across. Not just with our team, but across the league and across the nation as we stood up for America. When they pulled that big 'ol flag across the field, I've never seen a country so united. That was an amazing thing to be part of that.
"Now everybody seems kind of divided. That memory of how united everybody was at that time, we seemed like one people, never thought of black, white, brown, none of that stuff. It was we're all Americans. We're all standing together. And that was just a wonderful feeling to have. I loved being a part of that."
Now retired, Dearth, who was the recipient of the team's (Kyle) Clifton Good Guy Award in 2009, is, not surprisingly, still a good guy.
Even though he is unfortunately experiencing physical pain from playing the game, he doesn't focus on himself. Instead, it's on how he can assist not only his own family, but others as well.
"I've had seven spine surgeries, five on my lower back and two on my neck, I've had some hand surgeries, and I have two more to go before I'm hopefully in the clear. One for my shoulder and then I have another spine surgery," Dearth said.
"I do like to, if I can, get out and help. I helped with my son's little league football team and things like that. And then if I can, I get out and try to volunteer from time to time with track. So, I do get out and help some time, but a lot of times I've got to coach out of a chair.
"But I try to keep moving. I don't want to just sit around and feel like a dead man. I do try to stay very active in the best way I can."
Making his home in Stephenville, Texas, Dearth and his wife, Laurie, have three children. A daughter, Kaitlyn, who is an elementary school teacher. And two sons, Kendall, a junior at Tarleton State University. He was a second-team All-Conference guard last year. And Kolton, who's a seventh-grader. He's playing on both the offensive and defensive lines for his youth football team.