Half Hollow Hills West's Michael Crispi practices on sideline. (Sept....

Half Hollow Hills West's Michael Crispi practices on sideline. (Sept. 16, 2010) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

How do you earn a college football scholarship when you're not quite good enough and not quite big enough to be a starting lineman in high school? For Mike Crispi of Half Hollow Hills West, it was a snap.

The senior has so much passion for the game that he dedicated himself to the upside-down world of long-snapping after tiring of butting heads with players who frequently were 50 pounds heavier. Crispi has achieved near perfection in this odd sport-specific skill, one in which he views his target while leaning forward in a crouched position looking back through his legs before delivering the football to someone whose kicks can earn glory.

Crispi gets his kicks by filling the role of football's equivalent of the lefty reliever who pitches to one lefty batter before departing. Crispi plays only when his team needs to punt or attempt a place kick. "I'm not the biggest guy, but I love football and I wanted to play in college," said Crispi, a 5-10½, 230-pounder who this week verbally accepted a scholarship offer to play football next year at Elon University in North Carolina, the nation's seventh-ranked Division I FCS school. "I knew that wouldn't happen unless I became unique. I figured long-snapping would be the way to do that."

His long hike to stardom began in the eighth grade at Candlewood Middle School when his coach told him to try snapping instead. "I wasn't that great at first but after a couple of games, I got better," Crispi said. "My coach told me, 'If you get good at it, they give out scholarships for this.' It seemed far-fetched at the time."

Not any more. Crispi did some online research and found out that there are about 10 scholarships a year awarded to long-snappers. USC and Syracuse were among the schools offering such scholarships this year. Notre Dame and New Mexico did it in 2009. He did 100 long snaps a day when he started honing the craft, plus spent countless hours in the weight room to strengthen his back, shoulder and leg muscles to increase snap speed. But the road to a scholarship went through the summer camp circuit.

After Crispi's sophomore year, he visited a camp at Rutgers and excelled. "There were 25 kids, mostly seniors, and I ended up in third place," Crispi recalled. "The special teams coach told me, 'You're pretty good at this for such a young age.' "

This past summer, Crispi attended several college camps on the East Coast. One of those was Elon, a school he discovered when visiting cousins in North Carolina during a school vacation his sophomore year. "We passed a billboard that said 'Elon Football' and I said, 'What's this?' I stopped and looked around the campus. It was a nice place. It was bizarre because I ran into the football coaches. I introduced myself and told them I was a long-snapper. They said, 'Come to our camp.' "

Crispi went from billboard to top billing when this past summer, Elon coaches were so impressed they told him he was the best high school long-snapper they had ever seen. He was regularly timed at getting the ball snapped to punters in 0.65 seconds, the time of most NFL long-snappers.

An official scholarship offer from Elon arrived by registered mail this week, followed by a call from head coach Pete Lembo. Crispi, who said he had preferred walk-on offers from a couple of major Division I schools, made a verbal commitment - non-binding until February's national signing week - on Tuesday night.

His dream was now a reality. According to Hills West coach Kyle Madden, Crispi hasn't had a bad snap in his three-year varsity career, which included last year's 12-0 Long Island Championship season. "Football is a sport where, as a coach, you worry about everything. With Mike, I don't have to worry about a thing," Madden said. "For three years, I've been guaranteed perfect snaps. In our opener , he made a perfect snap for our first-time kicker Kevin Stanis, who kicked the winning field goal in overtime."

Crispi said he needed that kind of pressure. "First time in my career I've even been in a situation where we had a game-winning field goal opportunity," he said. "I'm glad that happened because there are so many close games in college. That's why they recruit specialists."

And why Crispi this week was able to make a snap decision regarding his college choice.

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