Jake Carlock plans to spend the next month or so refining the skill he believes will allow him to stick in the NFL. And he’ll do it in perhaps the most Long Island way possible.
By using a lacrosse cage.
The Babylon High School graduate, who played college football at Stony Brook before transferring to LIU Post and then signing with the Giants as an undrafted rookie earlier this spring, is an aspiring long-snapper. For an undersized linebacker from an undersized school, such an aptitude can mean the difference when it comes time to decide who makes the team or the practice squads later this summer.
So when the Giants rookies are dismissed from the team’s offseason program on Wednesday and check out of the Residence Inn in New Jersey that has been their “home” since early May, Carlock will return to Long Island’s south shore and employ the area’s most ubiquitous sporting equipment in his pursuit of pro football employment. Each day, he will head to a local field, turn his back on one of those metal orange rectangles with the triangle bottom, and fire footballs through his legs into the netting.
“I was just talking to Coach [Thomas] McGaughey,” Carlock said this past week, referring to the Giants’ special teams coordinator. “He said I need to have the ball in my hand every day just to get familiar with snapping. I’m excited. That’s fun.”
Fun, and in a familiar setting. Carlock is one of two Long Island players who signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent. Center James O’Hagan, who played at Seaford and the University at Buffalo, is the other. Their presence gives the Giants’ offseason roster more local flavor than it’s had in many years.
It’s been almost a quarter-century since a Long Islander made the team. The last Giant on the active roster who could mindlessly rattle off stops on the Ronkonkoma branch and pronounce Hauppauge without pause was Jumbo Elliott of Sachem, who starred on the offensive line from 1988-95 before signing with the Jets.
But while these Long Islanders have spent the spring with the Giants, the one place they haven’t spent much time has been . . . Long Island. That’s going to change very shortly. Both Carlock and O’Hagan said they intend to spend the coming weeks back home before they report for training camp in New Jersey on July 22.
That homecoming tour began a little early, when the two were honorary captains for the Long Island team in the Empire Challenge game at Hofstra on Friday night. It gave them a chance to see some coaches and administrators they hadn’t crossed paths with in years in some cases, but certainly not since they signed with the Giants. And it gave them their first real taste of what it might be like to be an NFL player in the same market where they grew up.
Most of their “vacation” time, though, will have little to do with soaking up adulation. There is work to be done. Carlock and O’Hagan are on the Giants’ 90-man roster, but when it comes to ranking depth, both probably are in the 80s. For them to make the team or the practice squad by Labor Day, a lot of improvement must take place.
For O’Hagan, that will mean hours studying the playbook.
“I want to be 100 percent on my assignments,” he said. “I want to be stronger and faster. It’s just a matter of doing everything the right way, executing my technique, working a lot of technique on my own, making sure it’s where it needs to be instead of just dilly-dallying around for a month and relaxing. I want to work real hard.”
For Carlock, it will mean snapping footballs into lacrosse cages, videotaping himself doing it, sending those clips to McGaughey for feedback, and going back out the next day to improve.
Both players have caught the attention of coaches. Pat Shurmur, who was an undrafted center himself when he came out of college, always pays special attention to that position . . . even when it’s played by a fourth-string rookie.
“He’s doing a good job,” Shurmur said of O’Hagan. “He’s smart, he’s very intelligent, and he gets it, which is important for a center . . . The centers and the quarterbacks have more on their plate because they do a lot of directing, which he’s doing a good job of.”
Carlock played off the ball at LIU Post as a defensive back, but the Giants are trying to convert him into a hand-in-the-dirt linebacker and edge-rusher.
“When you look at skill sets, that’s probably what fits him the best, closer to the ball,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said of Carlock, who was getting some second-team reps earlier this spring before tightness in his Achilles sidelined him for a week or so. “He’s a guy who is athletic, can run and chase. He’s just got to learn how to do it. Like all rookies, you have to learn what to do and you have to learn how to do it, too.”
The experience of being Giants has been eye-opening for both players. Every day, there is something to learn. O’Hagan has developed new blocking techniques that allow him to compete against bigger and stronger opponents than he ever faced at Buffalo. Carlock said he’s gone from “zero to 100” in his long-snapping knowledge, learning beside Pro Bowl veteran Zak DeOssie.
“In college I was just kind of the backup snapper and I took over, so I was just kind of throwing it back there,” he said of his one-handed technique that was altered to a two-handed form. “Now it’s actually learning how to do it . . . It’s so much better now and I feel so much more confident.”
One seemingly minor adjustment Carlock has made is tying his long hair into a bun and tucking it into his helmet. Flow may look cool as a linebacker, but having locks flopping all over the place when doubled over to snap a football can be a distraction.
“It helps,” he said of his ’do. “I tried it and I was like, ‘I can’t go back now!’ ”
There also is an immersion in Giants history. O’Hagan recently spent some time with a former Giants center, Shaun O’Hara.
“Really awesome guy,” O’Hagan said. “He gave me some advice, saying you have to be versatile. I may have been a Jets fan growing up, but I always gravitated toward offensive linemen and great o-lines, and that was one of the best ones to ever come through here. They had five guys who were all solid, could be Pro Bowlers year in and year out. Talking to him was awesome.”
They also shared a laugh over O’Hagan not only wearing O’Hara’s old number 60 but having the same O-apostrophe-H on the nameplate.
“He said if someone is gonna have [the number], he’d rather that be the case,” O’Hagan said.
When they return to New Jersey for training camp, things will start to get serious. The countdown to the start of the season will really begin for the veterans, and the chances for two undrafted players to prove they belong will begin to dwindle. There will be practices and walk-throughs and meetings and preseason games, and then, on Labor Day weekend, the endless wait by the phone to see what it all meant. To see if their pro football dreams come true.
Until then, they’ll spend their summer doing what they’ve done just about their whole lives — preparing for an upcoming football season — and doing so where they’ve always done it.
On Long Island.