Morgan Cox still can’t quite wrap his head around it.
On Sunday, he will play in Super Bowl XLVII for the Baltimore Ravens. His role on football’s grandest stage is not as surprising — to him.
Using a skill he began honing in the fifth grade, Cox will make his 54th start as the Ravens’ long snapper.
“It certainly has been a big part of my life,” the 26-year-old said. “Knowing what I know about my athletic ability I think long snapping would be the only way I would have thought this would have been feasible.”
Not many youngsters practice the final snap to set up the game-winning kick of the Super Bowl in their backyard. Cox was no exception, but eventually the Collierville native utilized long snapping as his ticket to college football and beyond.
More than 15 years ago, after he misfired on his first attempt, his father urged him to try again. An improved second effort caught the eyes of his grade school coaches. Not only did he come in handy on the offensive line, but he settled into a role as the starting long snapper his last two years at Evangelical Christian School in Memphis.
“As my career progressed it was just one of those things where I just raised my hand when the coach asked who can long snap,” Cox said. “As I kept doing it, it was something I thought I could get better at. Once my senior year of high school rolled around, where I was actually throwing it with some decent speed, accuracy and consistency, I went to Tennessee’s specialist camp and got some advice.”
With UT coaches drawn to Cox for his snapping acumen, he spent his first three years with the Vols as a walk-on.
During that time, he learned from upperclassmen and fellow long snappers Ryan West of Brentwood and Adam Miles from Hendersonville. By his sophomore season, Cox was handling the snapping duties on both punts and kicks.
The often overlooked task didn’t go unnoticed. He earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl, but like most long snappers he went undrafted. The Ravens signed him as a free agent in 2010, and he has played in all but one game for them since.
At 6-foot-4 and 241 pounds, his only job is to snap for punts, field goals and extra points. His responsibilities vary greatly from a center. On field goals, his delivery must be precise, making it easier for the holder to handle, place and line up. On punts, he must sail the ball farther, before quickly dropping back in a blocking stance.
“They’re kind of apples and oranges,” he said. “It certainly is a specialty position. In my opinion it is becoming even more so as points begin to matter a lot more.”
Three weeks ago, against the Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs, Cox quietly played a huge role in a game-winning kick for the Ravens. In the second overtime, rookie kicker Justin Tucker trotted out for a 47-yard field goal attempt.
It wasn’t a new situation to Cox, who last year snapped and then watched in disbelief as Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have forced overtime against New England in the AFC Championship. Even with that memory, Cox remained calm and zipped a snap directly to holder Sam Koch, who quickly positioned the ball. Tucker sailed the kick inside the right upright.
“Routine, for us as specialists, is the most important thing,” Cox said. “Once we get into those types of situations you have to revert back to your routine and allow your body to take care of the job.”
While he speaks about the moment calmly, Cox showed a little more emotion after the kick. An excited No. 46 popped onto television screens, jabbing and pushing a confident Tucker.
He hopes to join in an even bigger celebration on Sunday — perhaps after a Super Bowl-winning field goal? He admits playing the scenario through his mind and is more than up for the nerve-racking challenge if the opportunity unfolds.
It would just be another chapter in a season he still finds hard to fathom.
“It certainly has been a surreal experience,” said Cox, who marks the 21st time in 22 years a UT product will play in the Super Bowl. “There is often times where you can’t even dream that big. This is one of those times. As a kid, certainly you’d be watching the Super Bowl but to an extent you’re not sure you could ever make it there. But then once you get here it is like, ‘How could have I ever dreamed this?’ It has been such a special experience.”