In the beginning, there was no coach. No camp. At the start, Robert Soderholm III had only one thing.
That’s how he learned to long snap.
And he means that literally.
How to long snap. That’s what he typed into his YouTube search bar to begin figuring out how to become a long snapper. His football career started as a center, though that’s a different craft than actually snapping. But he stopped growing before his high school competition did, moving him to linebacker at Mountainview High in Virginia. To get off the JV team, he went back to snapping, doubling as his team’s linebacker and long snapper. With only mild Division Two interest, he earned an ROTC scholarship to Virginia Military Institute, paying for part of his costs, with head coach Scott Wachenheim offering the opportunity to help out even more.
“Late in February, Coach Wachenheim actually hit me up saying, ‘Hey, you want a preferred walk at our school?” he tells me in a Thursday interview. “I was already accepted, already had a scholarship of sorts. And so I was like, why not? So it started as a preferred walk on. At VMI you only get half scholarship for ROTC money. So I ended up earning another half scholarship my sophomore year after having a couple of tackles against Montrell Washington.”
His long snapping roots started totally self-taught. It wasn’t until later in his high school career that he was actually trained by someone else.
“I went on YouTube and was like, ‘how to long snap.’ Late high school is when I actually got like a coach involved. His name’s Kyle Stelter with Special Teams U. He trained Luke Rhodes and converted him from a linebacker to long snapper when he was already in the NFL. That guy’s an absolute unit, definitely someone I look up to.”
Solderhom turned those teachings into becoming VMI’s long snapper his entire career from 2018 through 2022, crediting accurate snaps with the holder not needing to spin the ball to turn the laces inside and away from the kicker’s foot. The most important thing, naturally, was to have fast, accurate, and consistent snaps. But a long snapper who can tackle is a valuable asset. He had seven career tackles, including three in 2022. Here’s two against Wake Forest.
NFL standards are higher but in college, Soderman outlined the operation times he aimed to meet.
“For a punt, you’re looking at the snap to be around 0.7. And then for the hand to kick to be 1.3…at our school our op-time was a 1.95 or less.”
For field goals, that number sits at 1.35 seconds. In the NFL, 1.25 is the benchmark.
But for Senior Bowl practices, speed wasn’t the priority. Consistent, accurate kicks were the key. Give the holder a good ball and the kicker a chance to put it through the uprights. A message affirmed by the man who seemingly chats to everyone in Mobile, Mike Tomlin.
“I remember Mike Tomlin coming up to [kicker Chad Ryland] earlier this week and saying, ‘Hey, take your time. Nobody’s timing the ops. Just kick it through the uprights.”
As Steelers’ Special Teams Coordinator Danny Smith always notes, a field goal isn’t a kick. It’s an operation. In fact, every kick and punt starts with a snap. It starts with Solderman. It started with YouTube. Hopefully, it ends in the NFL.