Oct. 20, 2010
By Bobby Busley, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Alex Shackleton's number 56 jersey is not sold at the Student Bookstore. His name is not familiar to the casual Spartan fan, and the position he plays is not one that kids mimic in their backyards like a touchdown catching receiver or a tackle-juking running back.
Shackleton, a fifth-year senior and one-time walk-on from Breckenridge, Colo., is the long snapper. It is a position that requires consistent technical precision, steely nerves and offers little thanks, and Shackleton has met those responsibilities as a starter in every game of his eligibility. In every game since the 2007 season, each time a Spartan punter or field goal kicker has been on the field, so has Shackleton.
"I've started every game," Shackleton said after a recent practice. "I'm at 45 starts now."
Shackleton came to East Lansing as a preferred walk-on to be the long snapper, a position he worked toward perfecting in high school.
"I tried out for punter in high school, because my mom and dad told me they wanted me to be a kicker so that way I could not get hurt," Shackleton said.
After not being as good at punting as he would have hoped (says Shackleton: "I was terrible"), his coach suggested that he try his hand at long snapping.
"All I got was the very basic how to throw between your legs kind of spiel from my coach," Shackleton said. "I started throwing it back and was pretty good at it."
So good that after proving his ability during his 2007 red-shirt freshman season, in which he appeared in all 13 games and earned a letter, Shackleton was awarded a scholarship before the next season began. He has been the anchor of the special teams corps ever since.
Throughout his tenure as long snapper, the kicking game has been tops in the conference, with kicker Brett Swenson taking honors in 2009 as the Big Ten kicker with the most field goals (19) and points scored (101). This season, sophomore kicker Dan Conroy is the only Big Ten placekicker with zero field goal misses.
"Everybody says that Penn State is `Linebacker U' - well, then we're `Kicker U', and that's the way it's been," Shackleton said. "I just love being a part of that tradition. People know that the kicking game is going to be good here. Whether it's the long snapper, the punter or the kicker, it's going to be good, if not the best. That's something to be proud of."
The long snapper position, while of utmost importance to the effectiveness of the special teams, is one that goes routinely unnoticed. This is a fact that Shackleton has come to accept and embrace.
"It's like they say, nobody notices me until I screw up," he said. "Coming in, the first couple of years that I started that was a little difficult to deal with. Once I kind of made it my own thing I was just happy about being here and grateful that I'm here playing, that's all I really care about anymore. I don't care if I get any glory."
This season, not only has Shackleton been perfect with his snaps, but he was also a part of what may go down as one of Spartan Football's most memorable plays - the game-winning fake-field goal in overtime against Notre Dame. While holder Aaron Bates connected with a 29-yard pass to tight end Charlie Gantt, it couldn't have happened without Shackleton getting the snap off just in time for the play to go forward.
"[Coach Dantonio] made a comment early in the game: `We're going to play to win.' And that's why we ran that fake," Shackleton said. "I remember having the ball and being confident that it was just going to go right where it needed to go because I knew exactly what was going to happen with the snap."
The consistency of Shackleton's flawless execution and workmanlike approach to his position over the past four seasons was epitomized in that single snap.
"I was so confident with myself that it was going to be perfect," he said. "Being able to be a part of that play, I can't explain it."
GETTING TO KNOW Alex Shackleton
FAVORITE PLACE TO SKI: Breckenridge, Colo.
FIRST CAR: 1987 Saab 900S
PREGAME ROUTINE: "I don't have one, but I make sure Dan Conroy listens to `Can I Kick It' by A Tribe Called Quest."
FAVORITE SPORT OTHER THAN FOOTBALL: Golf
FAVORITE TV SHOW: South Park
FAVORITE PRO ATHLETE: Tanner Hall
This feature was originally published in the Oct. 16 edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.