At Eastern Washington, the Eagles pride themselves on putting a little extra “special” into the football label of specialist.
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One of the first things Roldan Alcobendas did after winning the biggest national award for his position was thank his teammates.
It’s not an uncommon practice, obviously, but the Eastern Washington All-American punter/kicker called out only one teammate by name – long snapper Curtis Billen.
They’ve been around the block, these two “special” specialists who will don the Eagles’ jersey for the final time Saturday in the FCS National Title Game. Alcobendas is a sixth-year senior who claimed the Fred Mitchell Award for top kicker/punter at the FCS level, while Billen is a fifth-year senior edging past the 50-game mark of his career.
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They’ve been mainstays at positions that receive so little due during the successes and so much of a magnifying glass critique if they screw up.
“Nobody knows who I am, because I’m good at my job,” Billen told HERO Sports during media day in Frisco, Texas. “You only get noticed otherwise. It’s a very thankless job.”
It’s true, if you think about it. When you don’t have a good long snapper or kicker or punter, those routine extra points can turn into nightmares … and coaches get gun shy and may opt to go for two every time. Chip shot field goals turn into adventures, and a coach may not want to punt on 4th and 2 because a mistake may be made.
That’s what puts the word special into what guys like these two do.
The stats don’t lie. Alcobendas was 15-of-15 on field goals this year to top Division I football percentage wise. He backed that up with a 44.9-yard punting average with 12 going for more than 50 yards, easily picking up HERO Sports First Team All-American honors with his exploits. Meanwhile, his spot-on long snapper Billen has topped 50 games as the Eags’ long snapper, a nearly unheard of number of career games at the college level to be considered the “starter” at any position on the football field.
Think long snappers don’t matter? We present you the case of New York Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie, who just happens to be an FCS product out of Brown. He’s the second-highest paid LS in the NFL and has been in the league since being drafted in 2007. He’s made nearly 8 million dollars during his career.
Throw-away role? Um, no.
“He’s very critical,” Alcobendas told HERO Sports when asked about his close friend Billen. “Special teams is a very overlooked aspect of football. It helps my confidence knowing it is him snapping. I could trust him whether it was dumping down rain or 100 degrees outside – Curtis will execute to the best of his ability.”
As Alcobendas said, they’ll be a critical part of Saturday’s game.
“We’re all brothers,” Billen said. “It’s different, because it’s a more close knit unit than the others. We’re our own little special world, and that’s why we have special in our name. There’s only five or six of us.”