Thomas Fletcher was the Long Snapper at the University of Alabama. A two-time national champion, Fletcher was selected as the 2020 Patrick Mannelly Award Winner which is presented annually to the nation’s top long snapper. Fletcher was recruited by Head Coach Nick Saban, and former special teams coordinator, Jeff Banks who has begun a career at the University of Texas as of January 2021. On his special teams unit he played with Green Bay Packers punter J.K. Scott, and Simple Kicking’s own, Will Reichard. He follows a lineage of excellent long snappers in Tuscaloosa like Carson Tinker (New York Giants) and Cole Mazza (Los Angeles Chargers). Fletcher played in 3 college football playoff national championship games, winning the 2021 CFP National Championship over the Ohio State University and the 2017 CFP National Championship over the University of Georgia. In this episode, Fletcher shares how his hard work throughout his career allowed him to become the best he could. Treating each moment as if it were a game he follows a specific process. He shares his recruiting journey on how he earned a college scholarship as a long snapper to the University of Alabama, and tips he would give young long snappers who are attending kicking camps, showcases, and combines.
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Thomas Fletcher: How you how you get through life and how you get through the crap is the what I have learned as I’ve matured in college and matured in the sport is the way that you are successful in life is how you handle that difficulty it’s not how you handle the good stuff like a lot of people can handle the good stuff but what you deal with that challenges you those are the people that are successful in life people who are capable of dealing with stuff like that and so like I mean it’s you have to be a defensive pessimist in this game and you have to prepare for you know worst case scenario and everything but you know if it takes time it takes time but if it takes two years to get in and I play for another 15 like those two years are more than worth it you know.
James Hairston: a two-time national champion stops by the show to share what it takes to get to the next level if you’re a high schooler or college player this episode is for you. Lee, hit the theme, Welcome to Simple Kicking with your host James Hairston.
James Hairston: Thomas Fletcher was the long snapper at the university of Alabama I will not say the two words that succeed that university’s name but I’ll say welcome to the simple kicking show
Thomas Fletcher: thank you for having me man I’m glad to be on here.
James Hairston: so I had one of your homies a former teammate Will Reichard on the show and will told me a little story when number two Alabama was playing number one Georgia at home there’s about a little less than a minute left in the first half what ended up happening tell your side of the story
Thomas Fletcher: yeah so I I’m pretty sure they scored against us I don’t remember that part super clearly but we got the ball back or we stopped them and we had it and you know we were on our half of the 50 I mean we were pretty well backed up but our offense was you know as good as any offense has ever been and so I went over to will and told him just you know based off of the situation and having been in it before that you know we’re probably going to drive down and try and kick a field goal here so you know if you want to go hit balls in the net or you want to get like a snap timing down on the sideline like we should do that but we’re going to stand down you know at the kick line probably the 35 or the 36 and just wait on it wait on it wait on it and as they drive down if we get the opportunity we’re going to try and take a field goal here and so uh it ended up happening you know offense got us down to I believe the 34 I think they’re at the 34. maybe a little deeper I don’t know it was a long kick but we went out to kick the field goal and coach smart iced us and this was a big game from a specialist perspective because we were we were very tight with the special teams coordinator at Georgia uh on a personal level for sure and so you know we wanted to perform well and obviously you know you try and put your team in a position to win the game and so we went out to kick it we got iced we came over to the sideline and you know I went over to will and kind of gave him I don’t think he remembers this because he was you know doing the kicker thing once you get in that position I mean you’re you know smoking mirrors you don’t see anything else and it was like you know basically like you know in in less uh explicit words let’s make this kick and you know we went out and will did what will does and he drilled it man 52 yarder and it flipped the momentum of the game you know that’s the thing that from his perspective you know I think he saw that he made the kick and like he was happy he made the kick and he was excited and everything and the teammates were excited for him but from a momentum perspective which is you know a huge thing that special teams can control which is you know flipping the energy of the stadium in a lot of ways especially at the end of the half at the end of a quarter when you need a big kick when you get iced and stuff like that and so I mean we were we were about to go in the locker room and just tear each other apart for how we had played in the first half but you know the will riker kick kind of flipped everything and it was like hey this is this is us let’s go win this game so that was that was huge for for will and you know I couldn’t be more more proud of him and who he’s become and you know who he was in that game for sure fantastic kid fantastic human being it’s funny that you say that that kick flipped the script of the game it flipped the energy of the game
James Hairston: I’ve played in an exact same situation at Bryant Denny stadium where #1 LSU was playing #2 Alabama night game prime time the smallest pieces of the game shift you know the entire stadium 100,000 people
Thomas Fletcher: when we played Clemson in the sugar bowl in it was my freshman year so 2017 the year that we beat Georgia in the CFP national championship the opening kickoff JK Scott put the ball on the numbers on the goal line and they started trying to bring it out and Trevon Diggs ran around bent the corner trimmed the fat like trim the fat is the term but trim the fat came across and lit up whoever the returner was and I can tell you the game was over right then like immediately off rip you know just from our sideline and their reaction and our fans and everything that was going on you can feel it I mean it’s definitely an energy based thing you can feel when a stadium is is behind you and you can feel when your team is behind that energy and your team is a part of that energy and you know I very vividly remember especially because I was at such a young age and I hadn’t experienced anything quite like that before on a stage like that before but after that opening kickoff ballgame when we played Notre dame this year same thing kickoff will hit a wonderful ball started coming out and then I believe it was josh jobe just split the defenders knocked the dude out game over done like it’s our game we’re here to play that type of thing so it is especially from a from a special team’s perspective the effect that you can have on a game you probably don’t realize it when it’s happening but when you look back you can feel when that momentum flips
James Hairston: and that it flipped because of you know what you’re what your unit did you understand the momentum you’ve played in big games will described you as a mentor like you were the captain of special teams at the university of Alabama
Thomas Fletcher: yeah I uh and I’ve told this story before you know I wanted to be a leader not only in the specialist group but on the team itself because in 2018 when we lost to Clemson in the national championship in California it was the most embarrassing game that I’ve been a part of as an amateur athlete like not even not even close and I was standing on the sideline and watching everything happen and was kind of realizing you know this feeling of hopelessness in a lot of ways and the fact that I knew I couldn’t go on the field and do anything miraculous to flip the momentum of the game like I can’t go score a touchdown I can’t go cause a turnover like it’s just not the reality of the position because at the end of the day your job is very simple it is to do your job and you know I kind of realized in the days reflecting after that game that the best bet that I had to put everybody else in a good position and put us in a better position to win games down the road was to have a positive effect on the people who could do miraculous things and so I kind of went to coach Saban and got his blessing to do that and one of his words of wisdom or one of his many words of wisdom was in order to lead the team you first have to be able to lead yourself and after you lead yourself you first have to be able to lead you next have to be able to lead the specialist unit you have to lead your core group of guys and that combined with the fact that you know I had been a freshman before I had been a young guy before I gone through the same things that will was going through and it gave me the perspective to know what I would have wanted to hear from an older guy what advice would have helped me what would have put me in a better position if somebody would have come over put their arm around me and told me you know which way to go on one thing when I was here this is what I did and it didn’t work here’s what you should do that type of thing and you know will is as much a brother to me as he is a teammate like I love that kid to death and could not be more proud of who he is both as a person and as a kicker I mean he’s cannot say enough about will
James Hairston: yeah man you’re talking about having like brotherly advice but and I’m not trying to make this about Will but I want people to understand Will was coming off a pretty tough hip injury this is not just some new kid off the block who’s highly recruited coming in with a big chip on his shoulder no this is actually quite the opposite where someone may not you know he didn’t even have confidence in his health at that point so he was probably at a low point in his life and he still called you a mentor
Thomas Fletcher: yeah he went through a lot man I mean he you talk about a high and a low I mean he came out of high school as one of the best high school kickers that anybody had ever seen you know from a coaching perspective or from you know a specialist guru perspective and you know he got knocked off the pedestal a little bit he certainly did and it happens to all of us in one way or another but wills was significant to say the least and when you have the confidence in your guy to figure it out which everybody did and will just because of who he is it’s easy to go to a guy like that who is at their lowest point and be like you’re good like brother I’ve been a lot I’ve been around a lot of people who do what you do and you are better than those people that do what they do so you’re gonna be fine just trust it like it’s a pretty gruesome injury it’s not going to heal itself overnight but the best thing that you can do for yourself is to be in the position for when it is healed it looks like you were never hurt and that’s exactly what he did I mean he came back the next year and did not miss a single kick didn’t skip a beat you know because that’s who he is and I knew that’s who he was and the coaching staff knew that’s who he was we just needed to get him to believe that in himself and it turned out that he did and he had you know the best year of any specialist that I’ve personally played with especially in comparison to what he went through the year before.
James Hairston: so this is Thomas Fletcher he was the long snapper at the University of Alabama for the past couple years won a handful of national championships one hand on his body sags lower than the other because it’s full of you know jewelry between SEC Championships and National Championship hardware um it’s Masters week and earlier in pre-show you’ve said a key word which was caddy how are you a caddy for kickers and punters in your career and how do you think that’s going to help you at the next level
Thomas Fletcher: uh I think you the snapper and the holder have to be it’s a caddy type relationship with the kicker because as a kicker I mean you’re going through a lot I mean you know it like when you’re going to have to kick a field goal like as much as you want to simplify it it’s a lot going on I mean we talked about the energy in the stadium like you feel that just as much as anybody as much as anybody wants to say that like you know you go into a different zone or whatever I mean you’re still doing one of the hardest jobs in all of sports in front of a lot of people playing against a lot of really good players and stuff and so it is amazing the effect that nobody’s saying anything to you versus your snapper coming over to you and being like hey if we’re inside the 15 we’re probably gonna go tackle over here just you know punch it through man no wind like you’re good you got it let’s go we do this all the time it’s exactly what you say to your guy in practice and when he hears it in practice and drills kicks and then hears it in the game you know the next thing he does is drill the kick and it helps guys in numerous ways like because I know that because JK Scott came to me before my first punt at Alabama we were playing Florida state number one versus number three it was the first game in the new stadium in Atlanta and like you know I mean I was like you know jazz and excited and whatever and he comes over and he’s like hey just throw it on my hip and hit somebody I was like word and went out and did it you know it’s I mean you guys have to be there for each other and you have to want to see each other be successful and you want when you want to see each other be successful you start to find out you know what makes guys tick you know what makes like for will I can go to will and be like nobody in the stadium thinks you can make this kick and he’ll hit it from 65 yards like you know it’s just something that for him is like really oh okay and he’ll go out and you know I mean hit a 35-yard field goal five feet above the uprights
James Hairston: Let’s take a step back how do you even get to Alabama do you get a scholarship coming out of high school and does Alabama give scholarships to long snappers?
Thomas Fletcher: I think the past four long snappers have all been on scholarship but Cole Mazza and I the past two like Carson Tinker set the groundwork by all means in you know helping the organization realize the significance of having a good snapper and having a snapper for a long period of time especially Carson and the fact that you know he was a leader and he was you know the human being that he was and is and continues to be and so Cole Mazza got offered a scholarship out of high school to come to Alabama and then you know I mean how it works with specialists just every four years they look for the next guy and you know I was I was blessed enough to be in a good position and you know get offered a scholarship uh going into my senior year of high school I believe it was June of 2016 maybe I think it was June of 2016. um but yeah got offered a scholarship out of high school and pretty easy decision and came here and was you know obviously enjoyed a lot of a lot of team success over the past four years
James Hairston: you’ve learned a lot in the last four years what would you tell a kid yeah long snapping
Thomas Fletcher: I mean you’re going to snap a lot of footballs like you’re gonna snap more footballs than you’ve ever snapped in your entire life and it is vital to understand the fact that to a coach practice and it should be to you is what I’m saying I didn’t understand this when I got to school but practice is just as if not more important than the game so don’t think that you’re going to be able to go into practice and be like oh I’m working on this I’m working on that oh I’m trying to figure this out and do this different that’s not how it works because when a coach is watching you do what you do he’s trying to picture in his head if I put this guy in a game today and we had to play a game today does he put us in a good in the best possible position to win that game or is it another guy that does that and so just understand the importance of you are being evaluated all the time the way that you stand on the sideline is being evaluated the way that you go through flex before practice is being evaluated they want to find out everything that they can find out about you before they trust you enough to put you in a game that means as much to them as anybody you know and so just I think that that’s the biggest thing is like treat everything the way that you treat a game treat your workouts the way that you treat a game when you’re snapping with your holder and your punter and your kicker in the off season just in shorts and a t-shirt treat it like a game because before you know it is going to be a game and if you want to be the guy who’s doing it at the highest level that it’s done which is on the field in the sec on Saturdays treat everything like a game
James Hairston: final question at Alabama we talk about National Championships we talk about the process we see coach Saban getting everybody fired up or that’s the brand that fits the Alabama program is there any fun that you guys have a specialist are there any games that you guys play
Thomas Fletcher: well first of all winning is fun uh and we did a lot of that uh we would play punk golf which I involved myself in because it was you know I mean anybody who hasn’t done it that’s about as fun as it gets at a division one football practice but you know we would stand on one end of the field and be like hey that light pole par five like looking into the wind like talking to each other and stuff and so you know pump the ball and whoever gets it down there like you know and it was always the biggest thing was like if you were going to put quote unquote could you pick it up and roll it or did you have to kick it off the ground or did you have to actually drop kick it and like that rule changed every day depending on you know who wanted to do what and like you know we would argue about it and whatever but like nah pump punk golf there yeah there was a lot of there’s a lot of bloodshed in in uh punt golf
James Hairston: punt golf is a fun game that Joe Sturniolo he’s the kicking coach at Westminster high school in Atlanta and that’s where there’s some origins and punt golf and we see guys on Instagram like Jake Bailey (Punter for the New England Patriots) playing punt golf and Pressley Harvin III (Georgia Tech Punter who won the Ray Guy Award) having who’s joined the Simple Kicking Show to talk a little bit about punt golf so that’s a lot of fun to hear that you’ve played the game. Okay last question that I want to have and I know I already said last question but I’m going to pull up this clip from your twitter so stand by
Thomas Fletcher College Football National Championship Clip vs. The Ohio State University Buckeyes: one second being away from our families everything we gave up was for this it’s for this moment right here we get to live the rest of our lives as national champions forever thank you we’re all tied I love all of you
Thomas Fletcher: so that was obviously that’s on the field after the national championship in Miami this past year and I was just kind of like when you win a game like that you’re a little bit in a daze uh and you know we’re all walking around crying hugging each other telling each other how much we love like the feeling of accomplishment when you win a game like that far surpasses anything else that a lot of us will ever experience in our lives I mean it’s especially everything we went through like I spoke about in the video of not being around our families not being around our friends having the quarantine for the better part of you know seven or eight months and then you realize the feeling of accomplishment and the fact that I mean we did it man I mean everything that we set out to do like we accomplished we didn’t lose a football game like it’s really hard to do that to go through a whole year and you don’t lose to anybody that you play and we played you know 11 SEC teams and university of Notre Dame and you know Ohio state university and we beat all of them and we accomplished that goal that we had set for ourselves and so I was just kind of walking around and you know you can see me in that video of hugging Butch Jones like telling jaleel that I love him and everything and like as I was walking off one of our video guys said hey fletch and turned around and he had the camera sitting there and you know I had to kind of take a take a second and gather myself and just you know it sounds cliche but kind of speak from the heart a little bit you know until because the amount of people that that are involved in accomplishing what we accomplished is incredible like what goes into accomplishing what we accomplished is absolutely incredible and so that was you know very quickly after we had had won that game that was my first and most immediate opportunity just to give thanks and you know show my appreciation for the people who had gotten us there and had put us in that situation you know that’s by far you know it is today and it will forever be one of the happiest moments of my life one of the most accomplishing moments of my life for sure
James Hairston: what an incredible story dude you’re a champion you have a champion mindset you’re wise beyond your years I mean what stood out to me is the ability to handle a kicker when handling a kicker normally can take you know a doctorate in psychology or you know being up being an md like
Thomas Fletcher: on the record like let me say that that has way more to do with will and who will is than it has to do with me I mean it’s because there are guys where it takes a doctorate to try and get them you know back to reality uh will is as much if not more responsible for that because in order for him for like any of that to work he has to be accepting and he has to be capable of it so that that was you know I’m glad that I could be there for Will and I could help Will in the ways that I could help him but that he is I mean he’s the man dude like that that has way more to do with will than it does with me
James Hairston: yeah dude absolutely and look now that you have experience playing at the highest level you’re on the way you know to the NFL you’ve got what it takes and there’s success story out of success story with those being you know Reid Ferguson one of my dear friends who was a long snapper at LSU and the Buffalo Bills and his brother Blake Ferguson who just finished his rookie year in Miami at the Miami Dolphins you’ve seen the blueprint for success with Carson tinker you’ve seen how Cole Mazza works and now it’s your turn and so in the next couple weeks you’ll have an opportunity whether that’s being drafted undrafted getting a call whatever to go on to the next level and to show that you can take the skills that you’ve you know accumulated on Saturdays in the sec and national championships you’ll bring it on Sundays
Thomas Fletcher: yeah it uh you know I I’ve been very blessed in the fact that you know I’ve seen it from a specialist perspective because of the specialists that I’ve been around here but also I mean I played at the university of Alabama I played with a lot of guys who are playing in the national football league and I’m you know played with a lot of guys this past season who will end up playing in the national football league I mean some of my you know best friends in the world are going to end up playing football for a very long time um and you know like my roommate my freshman year was Minkah Fitzpatrick so I was exposed to a very at a very young age to what it meant to be a pro like what it meant to carry yourself like a pro because it’s not just a football thing like how you do one thing is how you do everything and so I got to watch guys like Minka Shaun Dion Hamilton like guys who I consider mentors for me that approached everything as I said earlier approach everything like a game you know and I was able to kind of replicate that and you know as I said as I just said like I could not be more blessed to have been in the presence of those guys and to learn it from them and so like I always you know was able to see how they did things and kind of decide that’s how I was going to do them you know and try and put myself in the best position to have that opportunity because you know my aspiration ever since I started getting into long snapping was I wanted to play it at the highest level that football has played and that’s you know this is just kind of kind of the next step in that process.