He was brought to the Giants to learn under the veteran two-time Super Bowl-winner he grew up watching and emulating, but in just two short weeks he wound up replacing that icon.
Daniel Jones? Well, yeah, him too. But this is a story about Colin Holba.
He’s a player whose name you likely haven’t heard much of since he became an important member of the active roster … and that’s a good thing, because long snappers who draw attention are usually not long for their business. The spotlight only shines on them when they make mistakes, when what is supposed to be routine goes haywire and costs a team a possession, or points, or in some severe cases, a game. It’s generally a one-strike-and-you’re-out profession.
For the past two games, ever since Zak DeOssie was placed on season-ending injured reserve, Holba has been handling the duty of getting the ball to the punter and the kicker on special-teams snaps — and doing it with hardly a hiccup.
He signed with the Giants’ practice squad during the bye week, but his story at the least-glamorous position in football goes back much further than that. All the way to grade school.
Holba didn’t even play football his last two years in high school. He decided to dedicate himself to playing baseball in college as a pitcher and enrolled at Louisville as a student manager with plans to try out as a walk-on. It was a solid plan, until he got there.
“Louisville pitchers are really good,” he chuckled. “Chad Green [of the Yankees] was there, so I wasn’t that good.”
But he did have a fallback sport. Growing up, he had been a quarterback on his football teams. Louisville had one of those already in Lamar Jackson, but Holba also had a fallback position.
“I could snap,” he said. “So I put on 50 pounds and tried out for the football team.”
He made it. He played one game in his first two years on the squad, then was the first-string long-snapper for the Cardinals for two years. In 2017, he was drafted in the sixth round by the Steelers.
Holba is part of a new wave of players at the position who are coming into the league without another position to add value to their roster presence.
DeOssie was drafted by the Giants in 2007 as a linebacker who could snap. His defensive designation eventually was dropped, but he did have it at one time. For many years, most other long-time long snappers started out that way, too, as linebackers or tight ends or linemen who have an extra skill set. That’s changing.
“It’s been like that for a minute,” Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said. “Those guys, the time that they spend together is invaluable. That process, that operation, I think a lot of times a normal person takes it for granted. ‘Oh, it’s just a snap. Oh, it’s just a hold.’ Nah. There are a lot of things that go into it and the more time those three spend together the better it will be.”
It’s easy to see that Holba was a quarterback when he warms up before games. Rather than get right into a split stance to fire the ball between his legs, he starts his routine with overhand throws. Passes. It was such throws that led to him being asked to snap.
“In grade school I was the only kid who had a strong enough arm to get it back there for the punter, so they threw me down there,” he said. “It’s an odd combination.”
Yet it’s brought him to the NFL. He played seven games for the Jaguars in 2017 and four for the 49ers last year. He began this year with San Francisco and played in two games before landing with the Giants.
When he was in college and elsewhere in the league, Holba would watch film of DeOssie snapping to learn the intricacies of the position. When he arrived in New York as DeOssie’s understudy, he was pleased to get to work with his role model.
“They say you should never meet your heroes, but that hasn’t been the case,” he said of the experience. “Zak’s been great.”
Now, though, Zak is gone. And it’s unlikely that he’ll be back after a stellar career with the Giants that included the two Super Bowls, a steady string of Pro Bowls and an unofficially perpetual captaincy for the special teams unit.
Holba is his immediate successor.
“He’s doing a good job,” McGaughey said. “He’s fit in really well. He’s a good kid and he works hard and we look forward to him getting better each and every week.”
The irony is that while long snappers are the most tenuous and dispensable position on any NFL roster, it is also a way to stick around the league for a long time. So could Holba also be the Giants’ long-term answer at the position?
“That’s the goal,” Holba said.
And the less you hear about him, the better his chances of reaching it will be.