Thomas Fletcher one of two in his specialized position to be drafted this year
Thomas Fletcher, a former Vancouver resident who played football at Skyview High School early in his high school career, went viral over the weekend with his reaction when he was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the NFL draft.
Named the best long snapper in college football after winning another national championship at Alabama, Fletcher had prepared himself for the real possibility that he would not be drafted. Instead, as the draft was reaching its later rounds, he was fielding calls about signing a free agent contract.
Then the Panthers called to tell him he was being picked.
It turned out, there were two long snappers selected in the 2021 draft. Fletcher went in the sixth round, the 222nd overall pick. Three picks later, Camaron Cheeseman of Michigan went to the Washington Football Team.
Many long snappers in the NFL get to their teams via free agency. There has been one long snapper drafted in each of the past six drafts.
We wish Fletcher the best in Carolina, as we re-visit our story on Fletcher we posted in January:
Former Skyview football player shines as two-time national champion at Alabama
It was late in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Alabama was on its way to victory, and the folks at ESPN gave a special salute to a four-year starter who was playing in his 55th consecutive game.
Oh, that player? He’s from Vancouver.
“It was awesome that they did that,” said Thomas Fletcher, who grew up in Vancouver and played two high school football seasons for the Skyview Storm before he moved to Texas.
As soon as Fletcher got to his phone after the game, he saw hundreds of notifications. Friends and family let him know that he was mentioned on the broadcast.
“I don’t know who teed that up, but it was nice of them,” Fletcher said. “If I were an announcer, I wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about it.”
The “it” in this case would be long snapping.
Thomas Fletcher is one of the best in the country at performing this skill: Snapping a football backward, between his legs, with uncanny accuracy on field goals, extra points, and punts.
It is Thomas Fletcher’s upside-down world, and we’re just living in it.
The Crimson Tide went 51-4 in Fletcher’s career. Alabama won two national titles and played in a third championship game in that run. Fletcher and his senior teammates also get to say they won the Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl.
In those 55 games, Fletcher took the field from his upside-down position close to 500 times. He snapped every punt in his career — granted, not too often at Alabama because of the Tide’s offensive success — and snapped every field goal and extra point attempt in his final three years.
“I never had a bad snap to the public’s eye,” Fletcher said. “A bad snap to the public’s eye is a snap that stops the play, that kills the play. I never had a snap that killed a play.”
Still, he is a perfectionist.
“If you want to be good at something, or great at something, you need to be hard on yourself and be self critical,” Fletcher explained. “I can find a bunch of examples of something I could have done better.”
A week after another national championship, Fletcher is still trying to improve on his craft, preparing for the Reese’s Senior Bowl. The best college seniors from around the country are scheduled to play in the all-star game in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 30, an event that also exposes them to coaches from the National Football League.
Fletcher is hoping to make an impression.
A perfect snapping record, playing for the most decorated college football program in modern history? That would seem to warrant a lot of consideration from the NFL.
Still, there are only 32 long snapping jobs in the NFL. Fletcher takes nothing for granted.
“One thing you learn very, very quickly in this business, expect nothing,” Fletcher said. “Expect absolutely nothing. Nothing is guaranteed. Everything that comes to you, you have to work for, you have to earn.
“The minute you expect something to happen, the guy who is working for something to happen takes it away from you.”
Long snappers are not accustomed to being drafted. Most are undrafted free agents. Still, one long snapper has been selected, in later rounds, in each of the past six drafts. So it is possible Fletcher could hear his name on television. He just won’t be fixated on the draft.
“It is important to say my focus is not whether or not I have an opportunity to be drafted,” Fletcher said. “The best thing I can do for me is to focus on being the absolute best version of myself and putting myself in the best possible position.”
If he is blessed with the opportunity to play at the highest level, he said he needs to give everyone around him, his teammates, the best chance to be successful.
“I absolutely love what I do,” he added. “My position, however you want to look at it, is one that can create value for an organization.”
It is a small piece of the puzzle, he noted, but every piece counts in the effort to win a game.
Fletcher loves it now, but he cannot say it was love at first snap.
“My dad being a snapper was a huge contributing factor,” Thomas Fletcher said of Tom Fletcher, who did snap in the NFL. “He got me interested in it, interested in a very loose way. Snapping is not the most appealing thing in the world when you’re 8 or 9. I was combative, to say the least.”
Still, Thomas kept working at it. He really started to enjoy it as he grew into a teenager.
At a football camp, a college special teams coordinator asked the Fletchers where Thomas was ranked for his age group.
Ranked? Father and son had no idea there were rankings for the specialty.
The family looked up Chris Rubio of Rubio Long Snapping and headed to Las Vegas for Thomas to show off his skills.
“Ever since then, it was full steam ahead,” Thomas said. “Rubio is a phenomenal mentor to me and phenomenal instructor.”
Hey, this could turn into something special.
“We had no idea. I just knew it was fun at football practice. ‘Hey, watch this. I can throw it between my legs really fast.’ I knew it was going to give me a chance to get on the field at Skyview, but I didn’t know it was going to be any further than that,” Fletcher said. “Obviously things took off rather quickly.”
At Skyview, Fletcher did play linebacker and tight end on the freshman team.
“I decided long snapping was a lot more fun,” he said. “I knew I was not going to play at any level beyond high school at either of those positions. Long snapping was an investment in myself.”
Fletcher specialized and played varsity football for the Storm as a sophomore.
Fletcher wanted a new challenge. He wanted to see if he could perform under the pressure of Friday Night Lights in the Lone Star State. The family moved to Austin. He played one year there before playing his senior year of high school at the prestigious IMG Academy in Florida.
He had scholarship offers from Florida State, Oregon, Texas A&M, among others. Fletcher also proudly points out that Portland State, coached by Vancouver’s Bruce Barnum, was the first offer. Fletcher remains close with the Barnum family. Bruce’s sons played at Skyview.
Alabama, though, won out in the recruiting battle. (For fun, Fletcher says it came down to Alabama or Portland State.)
Legendary coach Nick Saban met with the Fletchers, impressed Thomas, and in the end, it turned out that Saban delivered on his promise.
The key, Fletcher said, is Saban did not promise playing time, a national title or two, or anything specific to football.
“The one thing he promised me, if I bought into the principles and values of the organization, I would have an opportunity to create value for myself,” Fletcher said.
“He has turned me into a human being that I hope he can be proud of and be proud to have his name tied to, because I certainly know I am proud to have my name tied to his,” Fletcher said.
“If you ask me, he’s the greatest college football coach to ever step on grass.”
By the numbers, one could argue Fletcher is the best long snapper in Alabama history. But perhaps more importantly for Fletcher, he now has a Bachelor’s degree in communications and commercial real estate. He is working on his Masters in international business management.
Fletcher’s journey pretty much started in the Northwest.
“I consider Vancouver the place that I grew up,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher loves his memories from Skyview, even before he played there. His dad was an assistant coach with the Storm, and Thomas was a ball boy. He got to see what it took to be successful.
And later, Thomas fondly recalled playing at Kiggins Bowl with all of his friends.
The stadiums grew larger in the coming years, the games got bigger, too.
For Thomas Fletcher, though, the job was the same in Vancouver, in Austin, and Alabama. He hopes to continue that job in the NFL.
Put the ball on target, and give teammates the best opportunity to succeed.
It’s an upside-down world Thomas Fletcher is living in, and he’s got the perfect philosophy as he is about to tackle his future.
“To be where my feet are,” he said.