Penn-Trafford grad and current Navy long snapper Michael Pifer is an opportunist. When the Warriors were looking for a long snapper his sophomore year, he stepped up and not only won the job but became one of the best in the country before he left school.
“I was trying to find a way to get on the field,” Pifer said. “I had a natural talent.”
As it turns out, Pifer had knack for long snapping. He wasn’t just any long snapper. Pifer earned a national ranking going into his senior season. Kohls Kicking ranked him No. 6, and Kornblue Kicking had him at No. 5 in the country.
Pifer was on the radar. He was sought after by many Division I schools, including Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia. But the problem with those schools, they rarely hand out scholarships to long snappers.
Cut to Penn-Trafford’s first home game of the 2014 season against conference rival Connellsville. Navy (2-2) was on the other side of state playing Temple at Lincoln Financial that Saturday, but scouts took a detour to check out this long snapper from Western Pa.
“They actually came to my school on the first home game of my senior year when Navy was playing Temple and flew to my game; we talked and they offered me that day,” Pifer said. “I had no clue or anything about Navy. I had to take my time.”
Once the 6-foot-3, 226-pond Pifer found out the offer came with a free education he realized the opportunity.
“We go through some of the kicking services and the rankings,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, who is in his 10th season coaching the Midshipmen. “He was one of the more highly recruited snappers in the country. It’s a benefit for us that a lot of top snappers in the country don’t earn scholarships. It’s one of the great benefits; everyone that comes gets a scholarship.”
Navy has a recent history of putting long snappers in the NFL, too. The New England Patriots drafted former Navy long snapper Joe Cardona in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft.
“Navy has typically had very good special teams,” said Pifer, who is studying operations research. “He had a chance to go to the NFL. There’s only 32 long snappers in the pros, and I wanted to set myself up for greatness.”
Pifer is on his way. Now a junior, he’s earned his spot as starting long snapper on punts and extra points. He notched the first tackle of his young career on punt coverage during the third quarter of Navy’s 31-30 overtime loss to SMU two weeks ago.
“As a long snapper, his No. 1 job is to snap, and the coverage is a bonus,” Niumatalolo said. “It’s a pretty tall order, and he made a really good play for us.”
For Pifer, it was just like high school all over again.
“I do love running down field, and I feel like I did in high school playing other positions,” Pifer said. “In high school, I had try to chase down some good talent in Monte Nicholson and John Petrishen. It was definitely a confidence booster.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.