Ryan Langan walked into Jordan-Hare Stadium in awe. Unable to speak, really.
Exactly 365 days earlier, he and his Riverside teammates were playing against Wilcox-Hildreth in a six-man football game in Wilcox. Population 350, give or take.
A week later they played Hampton, then Heartland Lutheran and Elba.
Now it was SEC giant Auburn. Yes, that Auburn.
And not only was Langan in uniform for Georgia Southern, nor had he ever played 11-man football in his life, but the Cedar Rapids native was tabbed the Eagles’ starting long snapper. His first snap would come on a punt in front of 87,000 rabid SEC fans.
Welcome to college football, right?
“When they called for punt that first time, I just remember running out onto the field, and honestly, I forgot what the play was,” Langan said this week. “All I knew is I had to snap the ball, but blockingwise, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was in such awe and shock.
“Honestly, it helped because I didn’t think about the snap.”
More than 500 clean snaps later, Langan is getting his shot at the NFL. He went undrafted last weekend, but immediately received a call from the Los Angeles Chargers, who signed him to a free-agent deal. They want Langan at rookie camp in less than two weeks, and he’ll be challenging for a spot on the 53-man roster.
How does a six-man football player-turned long snapper from the heart of Nebraska end up at a Sun Belt Conference school — playing against the Auburns, LSUs and Clemsons of the world — and later the NFL?
“It’s actually a pretty crazy story,” Langan said.
Langan, then a prep junior, and his father had tickets to a Nebraska-Iowa football game, and got to Memorial Stadium in time to watch warmups. They spotted a Husker who physically didn’t quite fit the profile of a quarterback, running back or defensive linemen.
“I was like, ‘Man, what does he play?'” Langan recalls. “I looked it up and (the roster) said ‘LS,’ and I looked at my dad and said, ‘What the heck is LS?’ We were throwing out crazy things, anything to do with a safety or linebacker.”
LS stood for long snapper, and in a snap, Langan became very interested in knowing more about it.
At Riverside, which was the head of the class in six-man football at the time, Langan wasn’t the tallest kid, nor the fastest or strongest. He didn’t have a rocket arm. But he snapped a football pretty darn well.
“I knew this was a golden opportunity for me to get to the next level,” he said. “I did more research and found that people train for that specific position.”
That led to a connection with Chris Rubio, a nationally known trainer of long snappers. Rubio introduced Langan to Nebraska long snapper Gabe Miller, who took Langan under his wings.
Langan would drive to Lincoln about once every other week, soak in Miller’s teachings, and then head back to Cedar Rapids to work.
“I would take what he told me, and I would go back home and I would work at it for hours and hours and hours in the barn or shed,” said Langan, who also attended a couple of camps. “After I would get home from school, I would do my homework and go straight to the barn for two or three hours at a time. I just put in the time and effort.”
Joe Imus, Langan’s head football coach at Riverside, saw a kid completely committed to his craft.
“To do something like that and be that committed to that takes a special motivation and special kid to do that,” said Imus, who now coaches boys basketball at McCook. “There’s not a whole lot of glory in a long snapper, but obviously that’s a very important role. And to be able to take that on and stay that committed to that shows the kind of kid he is.”
Chad Lunsford was in a bit of a bind.
Then Georgia Southern’s special teams coordinator, he was tasked with finding a last-minute long snapper after the team’s starter from the 2016 season hung up the cleats the following spring to become a regular student.
First, Lunsford looked at in-state prospects, but the good ones were all taken. Then he called Rubio.
“He put me on a few names, but he said, ‘Look, you really need to look at this Ryan Langan kid,'” said Lunsford, who took over as Georgia Southern’s head coach in 2017.
Lunsford was hesitant at first. Should he take a chance on a kid who played three years of six-man football?
Rubio eased those concerns.
“He’s like, ‘Coach, I’ve had him in camp, just trust me,'” Lunsford said. “I took his word for it, and brought Ryan in on an official visit.”
Langan, just weeks before graduating from high school, returned home to Cedar Rapids and told his parents he wanted to walk on at Georgia Southern.
“I was open to anybody,” Langan said. “I was just shooting for DI so I was holding out a little bit, really trying to find the best opportunity for me to go play immediately.”
That opportunity was 1,300 miles away in Statesboro, Georgia. Langan arrived, competed with another player for the starting long-snapping job and won it.
Ahead of him was four years starting for the Eagles, and Auburn.
Langan caught touchdown passes and he played basketball, but once he felt he had a knack for long snapping, the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder narrowed his focus knowing it could open some doors down the road.
“Really just honestly finding your niche, and it doesn’t haven’t to be anything with sports,” he said. “It could be academics, it could be art, it could be anything. If you can find your niche and run with it, you’re going to go places. I was fortunate enough to accept the fact that I wasn’t the top athlete and my niche was long snapping, and I knew I could be very good if I put the work in.”
Langan didn’t go out for football until his sophomore year in high school. He played center and tight end for Riverside.
When Langan was a sophomore, Imus had a quarterback who actually handled snaps on extra points. However, Imus’ QB was so winded after racing for 60- and 70-yard touchdowns that he made Langan the team’s specialist snapper for good.
Behind a bevy of playmakers, the Chargers rolled to three six-man state championships.
The downside for someone who loves to long snap: Six-man juggernauts rarely punt the ball. In fact, Riverside punted only twice during the 2016 season, Langan’s senior year. The second time came late in the fourth quarter of the state championship game against Cody-Kilgore. Riverside had a huge lead. The backups were in facing fourth-and-long from their own 5-yard line.
Imus signaled for the punt team. The starters returned to the field.
“I hadn’t seen a kid so excited to go out on the field for a play,” Imus said. “I mean, he immediately grabbed his helmet, got strapped up and sprinted out there and had a big smile on his face. If you didn’t know any different, you would think we were setting up some heroic trick play that we had been working on all year and we were finally going to run it.
“His last play, he got a long snap.”
Imus confirms it was a great snap.
“All of his snaps were good,” the coach added. “But if you were making a highlight film based on his long snapping it would have been short and sweet.”
Georgia Southern took a chance on Langan, and it paid off in a big way. By his sophomore year, he was put on scholarship.
In four seasons, he snapped the ball more than 500 times on punt and field-goal units. All of them were on the money. No errors. Georgia Southern played Auburn, Clemson and LSU. The Eagles were 10-3 in 2018, Langan’s sophomore year, and they won the New Orleans Bowl his senior year.
By the end of his collegiate run, Langan was named a third-team All-American by Phil Steele, a Sun Belt Conference honorable-mention selection and a finalist for the Patrick Mannelly Award given to the nation’s top long snapper. He also carried a 4.0 grade-point average studying criminal justice.
Langan earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl, which means he had pro scouts looking at him.
The Los Angeles Chargers were very interested. They called Langan’s agent last Saturday morning, the third day of the NFL Draft, to say they really wanted Langan on their team, likely as a free agent.
Langan watched the draft from his home in Cedar Rapids with his family and a couple of buddies. When he went undrafted, the Chargers immediately called with an offer to sign.
It was another dream come true for a player with small-town roots.
“It’s a great opportunity, and it’s something I want to be a part of and I want to make a team and I want to play,” he said. “But I also had to take a step back Saturday after the draft and was like, regardless of the outcome, I got to the top level. I can’t go no further from where I started to where I ended. I’m blessed to be in this opportunity.”
On Monday, Langan flew down to Birmingham, Alabama, to begin working with Chargers punter Ty Long. They share the same agent. Langan will soon head to California for rookie camp, and later organized team activities. Then he’ll compete for the starting spot in training camp.
“Just seeing him out on the field against Auburn players was kind of a surreal moment, I guess you could say,” Imus said. “Seeing photos or watching the game against those guys it’s pretty incredible to see and it’s only going to get better if he makes the team and he’s playing against the Patriots or Chiefs.”
Was it a bit of a shock going from six-man football to major college football? Sure. Will there be a similar transition to the NFL? Langan can probably count on it.
But he’s not putting a lot of pressure on himself. He’ll do what he knows best: Work, work and snap the ball with precision and accuracy.
“It’s a dream come true, so I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity and do my best and enjoy it,” Langan said. “A lot of people take this too serious, and you got to step back and enjoy. That’s part of the game is enjoying it and having fun, but there is a time you put on a switch and it’s business and you get the job done.”
Lunsford said it wouldn’t shock him if the player he recruited to Georgia Southern goes on to have a long NFL career.
How about that? From six-man football near the Cedar River in front of one or two hundred people to “Monday Night Football” or an AFC Championship Game.
“He’s a guy when you started digging into his story, man, it’s really going to be a great one to tell one day, for sure,” Lunsford said.
2020 All-City fall sports: Take a look at the best of the best from a memorable fall sports season in the Capital City
From the football field to the golf course — with stops at the softball diamond, cross country course and tennis and volleyball courts — here’s the list.
Check out the top football players from the Capital City this past season.
A look at the top performers on the volleyball court from the Capital City this past season.
A look at the top players on the diamond from the Capital City this past season.
A look at the top performers on the cross country course from the Capital City this past season.
A look at the top boys tennis players from the Capital City this past season.
Check out at the top girls golfers from the Capital City this past season.
Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.