He’s not in the running for most popular Redskin, and he doesn’t play one of the most glamorous positions on the team, but Nick Sundberg has a vital role as long-snapper.
After some ups and downs as a rookie, Sundberg has executed with improved consistency this season and appears to have found a home in the NFL.
How does a player decide that he wants to become a long-snapper?
“It really wasn’t my choice. My sophomore year of high school I switched from guard to center, and our long-snapper had graduated. We had a whole new coaching staff come in. The guys who came in, our offensive line coach was a snapper when he was younger, and he said, ‘You play center, you might as well snap, too.’ So he taught me how to do it. I was terrible at it. We had a new offensive line coach come in the next year and he took it real seriously. We started snapping five, six days a week, 150, 200 balls a day, really started taking it seriously, got a lot better my senior year. I still wasn’t where I wanted to be. I was going to go to a [junior college] and thought I’d probably play center. I was a lot bigger then. I was probably 290. I kept hitting it hard, started losing a little weight, went to a couple competitions, got noticed, Cal needed a guy and I got an offer.”
At what point did you feel like college and the pros were an attainable goal?
The guy who taught me how to snap – his name is Ben Bernard – he’s the long-snapping guru in Phoenix, Ariz. He’s now got around 30 guys long-snapping on D-I scholarships. I think I was around No. 15. There were quite a few guys that were ahead of me that I’d watched. The long-snapper for the Texans, [Jon Weeks], is a year older than me and I watched him a lot. He had a full ride to Baylor when I was a junior, so I really looked up to him and thought, ‘Man, he’s so good. He’s got a full ride. I want to do that too!’ And so my coach kept telling me, ‘You keep working hard and keep working hard, you can do this.’ I got to college and he said, ‘College is just a stepping stone. You’re going to be in the NFL some day.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s a long time away.’ But sure enough, three years later, I was like ‘I’m graduating early, I’m going home so I can train and get ready for the NFL.’”
What was it like when you got your first NFL opportunity?
“It was pretty sweet. Originally it was from Carolina. Went there as a free agent. Originally, it was kind of overwhelming. You want to have enough confidence in yourself that you can do anything at the highest level, especially as a specialist. You have to have faith in yourself. But it was still so awesome. I was sitting there with my mom, watching, trying to take calls. It was a really cool experience.”
You’re not a real big guy – 6-foot, 250 pounds. Do people recognize you when you go out?
“Not really... I live with Erik Cook so if we go out, I’m walking around with a guy who’s 6-6, 310, so it’s easier for people to notice him than me. But I don’t mind. I just look like a little guy who hits the gym pretty hard.”
What do you do for enjoyment away from the football field?
“I’m an adrenaline junkie. When I was younger, I went sky-diving, bungee jumping. But my mom went through my contract thoroughly and said I can’t go sky-diving or any of that stuff. But I live in Phoenix, where it’s always nice and sunny and I’ve got a pool at my house, so pool days and pool volleyball is where it’s at a lot of the time.”
If you weren’t playing football, what profession would you have pursued?
“My mom is very good at what she did. She worked in sales for years at a company called Taser International and I used to go to the trade shows with her and was exposed to the sales aspect of things. I’d like to say I have pretty good people person skills and I like to go out and do things like that. I had a lot of fun when I was younger, especially working with a product like a taser, the one the cops use. I had a lot of fun when I was younger, experimenting. I would tase the crap out of myself. So I’d probably be working in that industry. Fortunately, I don’t have to work a 9 to 5 right now.”
In real life? You tased yourself on purpose? Why, and what was that like?
“First time I ever did it, I was 9. It was Bring-Your-Kid-to-Work day. My mom’s coworkers were messing with me and said, ‘You gonna take a hit today?’ And I said ‘Yeah!’ just trying to be cool or whatever, and my mom said, ‘Yeah, do it.’ I was like, ‘What?’ the only reason why I said yeah was because I was thinking she wasn’t going to let me do it. Sure enough, she did it. They got me twice that day. It hurts. Every time they come out with a new one, I’ve tried it. Except for this last one because I haven’t been around there a lot. But it hurts a lot. It completely incapacitates you. Usually it’s a five-second run time. All your muscles lock up. When we did it, we tried to do it as safely as possible. We’d have two guys stand there so you don’t face-plant. But the second it’s off, it’s off, and you’re like, ‘What did I just do?’ there’s no pain or anything. That’s why I was able to keep going back to it over and over again.”
How does that feeling compare to a big hit on the football field?
“I’ve been blasted pretty good a few times. Football is completely different because it has lasting effects for a few hours or days.”