For Bills rookie Garrison Sanborn the summer of 2008 was a difficult one. Regarded as the best long snapper in the college class last year, he didn't expect to get drafted, but he certainly thought his phone would ring with some opportunity to showcase his skills in an NFL camp. Aside from a rookie tryout with Tampa Bay there wasn't much interest, until that June when the Bills called.
"I've always wanted this and felt it was attainable," said Sanborn a day after landing the Bills long snapper job with the team's release of Ryan Neill Wednesday. "But last year when nothing happened after the draft and I was supposed to be tops in the class it just got tough. But I worked hard and hoped, and when I kept getting calls from the Bills I kept getting more and more excited and kept working hard."
Buffalo Bills Vice President of Pro Personnel John Guy holds a mass player tryout in June every year where a couple of hundred aspiring players get an opportunity to work out in front of the club's pro talent evaluators. It didn't lead to a signing then, but almost a year later it led to another phone call.
The Bills wanted Sanborn to come in for a three-day tryout during the team's rookie minicamp this past May. With only rookies and first-year players allowed to attend such a camp, NFL clubs often bring in a couple of dozen tryout players to have enough bodies to conduct a typical practice, while also evaluating some of the lesser known talent.
The only problem was the three-day camp fell on the same exact weekend his older sister Maureen was to be married. Sanborn was a member of the wedding party. Knowing how hard her brother had worked the past year Maureen and her husband to be gave him the go ahead to try out with the Bills knowing it was his lifelong dream.
Before leaving for Buffalo Sanborn wrote a letter which was read at the wedding reception. Maureen's brother was there in spirit.
Sanborn impressed the coaching staff with his long and short snapping to the point where he was signed by the Bills just two days after the tryout camp had ended.
It also marked the beginning of his competition with veteran Ryan Neill, who had been the team's long snapper the past two seasons. Through the OTAs and minicamp Sanborn held his own displaying an accuracy and power that impressed. When training camp arrived Sanborn's technique was sharp and it only continued through the first two preseason games with the exception of one snap.
"My first punt snap I put it a little high right at the top of Brian (Moorman's) helmet. It was just a little bit of the adrenaline kicking in from getting to play in my first NFL game, not to mention that it was the Hall of Fame game," said Sanborn. "I was a little excited there, but I cooled it down after that and put them right where they needed to be."
Sanborn was most pleased with his ability to get downfield after the snap and be in a position to make a play and that was not lost on Buffalo's coaching staff.
"We needed to see him cover and we needed to see him do it in action," said head coach Dick Jauron. "In the two preseason games we watched him very closely."
"I was real excited that I was able to show them that not only can I snap, but I can cover and contribute," said Sanborn.
The rookie's power however, might be what ultimately tipped the scales in his favor in the competition as his snaps appeared to get to Moorman faster than that of Neill's. Velocity is not as important as accuracy, but it's a close second.
"It's big because if you have good velocity on your snap you can save a missed assignment," he said. "If somebody misses a guy and me and Brian are fast enough to get the ball off, the ball is not blocked. It's really important so it kind of gives everybody else a little bit of breathing room. It gives Brian an opportunity where he's not waiting on the ball when the rush is coming. He can just get it and go."
"We love the way he snaps the ball," said Jauron. "Above and beyond anything else he's got a really good velocity on the ball and really good accuracy. Now obviously everybody makes a bad snap some time, but he's been very accurate throughout our OTAs and training camp."
After the team made the decision to release Neill, Sanborn realized his dream of making an NFL roster had become a reality. The first person he called was his sister.
"I called her yesterday and the first thing I said was, 'I'm so glad I missed your wedding,'" said Sanborn laughing. "And she started laughing and asked what happened. And I told her and she was so excited. She said, 'I just had a bad day and you just made my day. I'm so happy for you.' So she was pumped. She was real happy."
Not as happy however, as her kid brother.
"It was pretty exciting. I just had a lot of people behind me that had been pulling for me for a long time and they were happy to see that it looks good at this juncture," said Sanborn. "It's pretty awesome."