RALEIGH — There’s a reason you may not know Joe Shimko.
His success with NC State football is based on staying out of the spotlight — remaining invisible through perfection. That the average fan does not know his name, means he’s doing his job.
That’s the life of a long snapper.
But Shimko’s efficiency at his position has begun to earn him some recognition. Entering his fourth season with the Wolfpack, Shimko has never been responsible for a bad snap on 174 punts and 180 field goals and extra points.
That’s 354 perfect snaps over three years and 4,050 yards — 15 yards a punt, eight for FGs and XPs — that a football leaving his hands has traveled without a mistake. This summer, Shimko was the only NC State player listed on Phil Steele’s 2022 Preseason All-American first team and will be a favorite to win the Patrick Mannelly Award for the nation’s top long snapper.
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Perfection was finally recognized.
“Long snapping was never something I saw a future in until I realized the kind of future I could have,” Shimko told the USA TODAY Network. “It became my path to get into college and a way to play in the NFL.”
Becoming special at a specialty position
Shimko was feeling disillusioned about sports as he entered his sophomore year at Wall Township High School in New Jersey.
His love of baseball had begun to fade and while he gravitated toward the physicality of football as a running back and linebacker, several minor injuries had him questioning if he wanted to continue.
“I knew football wasn’t going to last forever, but I wasn’t even sure how I was going to last at all,” Shimko said.
It was his father, Rob, who posed an important question to him one night over dinner.
“Did you know long snappers can last 10 years or more in the NFL?”
Rob had found a football camp specifically for long snappers, hosted by Chris Rubio, who is well-known for developing the position and getting players recruited and signed. Since 2010, Rubio has helped over 1,000 snappers earn full scholarships.
“Let’s try it,” Shimko said.
They already had a perfect backyard for long snapping practice. His father had cleared trees around the property years before to make room for a full-size batting cage and pitching machine. No matter what sport Shimko played, his father did his best to support that passion — his way of showing love and making up for lost time.
Working as a union electrician had kept Rob on the road for the first 10 years of Shimko’s life. Birthdays and holidays were sometimes missed, but that was his best way to put food on the table.
Shimko saw the pain his father endured doing a job that required plenty of physical labor and the pressure it put on his mother. He decided at a young age he would make enough money to keep them all together.
“Whatever I needed, he was always down,” Shimko said. “I’ve never been mad at him for having to travel a lot for work, if anything, I’m proud that he was willing to work so hard to give us everything we needed. I’m thankful for that. I’ve learned a lot because of that.”
He attended his first long snapper camp that winter and quickly realized the amount of competition around the position. Most had begun training in middle school, and he was miles behind the best. Shimko traveled to a national event in Las Vegas later that year and ranked No. 80 out of the 100 participants from the Class of 2018.
Good. Not great.
During the summer before his son’s junior year, Shimko’s father drew inspiration from a golfing documentary where the instructor told the golfer to hit 200 golf balls a day to improve his muscle memory.
“That’s what we’re going to do,” he told Shimko.
Every day for the next two months, the two worked together in the backyard, growing closer as Shimko steadily improved. Shimko would snap 200 punts and 200 field goals every day until his arms and neck were sore.
He learned to situate his upper body so he could straighten his legs out during a snap. He started doing yoga to improve his flexibility and added weight to his 5-foot-10, 180-pound frame. Shimko is currently 6-0, 225 pounds.
“That’s when I seriously took off,” he said. “In the snapping world, it’s not really common to do that much repetition, but it’s what I needed to do to make up for the lost time.”
Shimko started on varsity his junior year as the long snapper and began to climb up the Rubio rankings. He went from 80th to fourth in less than a year.
Why Shimko chose NC State
When it came to recruiting, Shimko put in a similar amount of work to make his decision.
His father bought him a large notebook with alphabetical dividers and gave him a task: Write down every Division I school in the country, the top 100 Division II schools and the top three Division III schools; fill out every questionnaire and write down the name of every head coach and special teams coach.
Shimko stretches his thumb and pointer finger as wide as they can go.
“I had a binder about that thick with info on every single school,” he said, laughing.
NC State initially did not make the cut. He planned to major in exercise science, something not offered in Raleigh.
It was Doug Shearer, the Wolfpack’s former quality control assistant for special teams, who reached out to Shimko and said if he attended their camp he would have a chance at earning a full scholarship.
An hour into the camp, it was coach Dave Doeren who personally offered him the scholarship. Shimko committed a week later.
“Coach Doeren really made it clear that he truly understands how important special teams are,” Shimko said. “He really respected what I could do, and seeing how much he cared really made the difference.”
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That respect has shown in the last few years.
Wolfpack placekicker Christopher Dunn, who is returning for his fifth season, is the school’s all-time leader in points and made field goals. Trent Gill was the first-team All-ACC punter in 2021 before declaring the NFL. Doeren quickly found his replacement in Shane McDonough, a Towson transfer who averaged 40.4 yards on 46 punts with a long of 72 this past season.
Earlier this week, NC State got a commitment from Aiden Arias, a 2023 five-star long snapper from Florida.
“Doeren always talks about winning all three phases of the game and that includes special teams,” Shimko said. “We understand how important we are to the success of this team.”
David Thompson is an award-winning reporter for the USA Today Network covering NC State and Duke athletics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 828-231-1747, or on Twitter at @daveth89.