Whenever Newton South High football coach Ted Dalicandro asked something of Aaron Golub during a game, on the practice field, or in the weight room, the response he received was almost always the same.
“He says, ‘I can do it,’ ’’ Dalicandro said.
“ ‘Don’t worry about it; I can do it. I can do it.’ That’s his mantra: I can do it.”
Golub has been the Lions’ varsity long snapper for the last two seasons. Thanksgiving’s matchup against Lincoln-Sudbury Regional will be the senior’s final high school game, but he is expecting that it will not be his last time in pads.
Considered the top high school long snapper in New England, according to one set of highly regarded online rankings, the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder is being recruited by various Division 1 college programs all over the country.
He is also legally blind. Since birth, Golub has had no vision in his right eye and limited vision in his left.
“I don’t really think it makes much of a difference,” he said. “I think I can play just fine. I’ve never been worried about it.”
Golub began playing football in the seventh grade as a lineman at Oak Hill Middle School. Having fallen in love with the crunching of the pads and the camaraderie that accompany the sport, he intended to continue playing at the high school level.
Dalicandro was tentative about putting Golub on the field at first, fearing for the player’s safety.
“I was nervous,” he said. “I give every kid an opportunity no matter who it is, but I wanted to make sure that this was something that wasn’t going to leave Aaron exposed to injury.”
As a sophomore lineman playing on the junior varsity at Newton South, Golub suffered a concussion that kept him off the field for the majority of the season. But his desire to play never wavered. The next winter, he decided he would make it his goal to play college football, and he decided long snapping was the route he would take.
“I used to play center, so I thought maybe I could try,” he said. “I did a little bit of it before, but I was never very good.”
Golub says his first few attempts were “horrendous.” One particularly wobbly, high- arcing snap lives on YouTube as material for playful teasing by friends and teammates.
“But now if you look at the videos from 2013, you’re taken aback,” said senior captain Eric Manditch. “His snaps have a tight spiral, the location’s great, and he’s done it in games, which I think is the most important thing.”
‘I’m going to win. It’s not an issue. Even if they are stronger or bigger, I’m still going to win.’
The 17-year-old Golub has dedicated himself to his craft year-round. He watched video to analyze the mechanics of long snapping. He went to fields before school with his father, Bob, to practice his snaps. And he spent hours in the weight room to build muscle and become more explosive in the movements that make for stronger, more accurate snaps. He bench-presses 245 pounds and dead-lifts well over 400.
“In the weight room,” Manditch said, “he’s kind of an animal. He really is.”
Bob Golub says his son is very dedicated. “Whether it’s lifting or snapping, or researching snapping or going to camps and all that, he just doesn’t stop,” he said. “He wants to be as good as he can possibly be and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of limitations. He just continues to improve.”
The summer following his sophomore year, Golub began attending camps run by Chris Rubio, dubbed “Guru of the Long Snap” in a New York Times headline last summer. Rubio spends most of his year on the road, conducting camps and instructing many of the best high school long snappers in the country who are looking to play the position in college.
Rubio, who was a long snapper at UCLA, promises “maximum exposure,” and his rankings — which have Golub as No. 47 in the nation and No. 1 in New England — are used by college programs in their evaluation of potential recruits.
Golub has been to several of Rubio’s camps, as close as Auburn and as far away as Chicago, North Carolina, and Las Vegas. He was named a “top performer” on three occasions.
“He was very, very, very, we’ll say average at best when he started,” Rubio said. “But the kid is just so . . . determined. You tell him what to do, and consider it done.”
At the camp in Auburn this summer, Rubio saw a completely different Golub than the one he first encountered. When Golub began snapping almost two years ago, it took him about a full second to get the ball to a punter 15 yards away. This time, his snaps were traveling the same distance in .75 seconds — the benchmark for many Division 1 teams — and sometimes less.
“He came out and I was like, ‘Good God!,’ ’’ Rubio said. “His form looked better. He’s bigger, he’s stronger. He’s just snapping completely two different balls. You wouldn’t believe it. From my world, it’s a big deal. It’s like the difference between a car going 40 miles per hour and a car going 80 miles per hour. It’s a massive difference.”
Dalicandro says he can remember just one bad snap in two seasons with Golub, but Golub’s standards for himself have skyrocketed proportionally with his improvement.
“If the punter catches the ball at his head, Coach might think that’s a great snap,” Golub said. “I think it’s an awful snap. I’m upset about it because it wasn’t placed on his hip perfectly. I’m picky about it, but that’s because I want to play in college.”
Golub’s visual impairments usually only come into play after he has fired off a spiral to Newton South’s punter, sophomore Anthony DeNitto. Looking up, he blocks any defensive lineman in front of him and then serves almost as a second safety, along with the punter, on the return.
College teams that use a “spread” punt formation and ask their snappers to chase returners may not be the best fit for Golub. A “pro-style” college unit, in which the snapper focuses on blocking, would be more tailored to his strengths.
“I snap it, I block, then I’ll run down a little bit, probably no more than 10 yards,” Golub said. “If I have to, I’ll run down more. I can go down and hit someone fine. I can take out one of their guys. But I can’t be expected to make a tackle or get the ball. If he was coming at me, and it was a last resort, I’d try to make a tackle, but I wouldn’t really ever find the ball. Beyond that, it’s not really a limitation.”
Golub understands that hits can come from anywhere while he is on the field, but does not fear taking an unexpected blow.
“I think if somebody’s trying to go at me hard to block me, I’m just going to knock them down,” Golub said. “I’m stronger than them; I’m bigger than them. I’m going to win. It’s not an issue. Even if they are stronger or bigger, I’m still going to win.”
Last season Dalicandro created a team honor — the Courage Award — to recognize Golub and all he does for the Lions despite his physical limitations.
“I’m blessed to work with a lot of different kids,” Dalicandro said, “but he’s once in a lifetime. That’s how wonderful of a kid he is.”
Golub considers himself just another player trying to help his team win games. What he does is not necessarily courageous, he believes.
“I think some people could describe it as that,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think of it as that. I don’t really think I have that many limitations out here. I don’t think it’s that big a deal.”
Rubio’s biggest long-snapping camp of the year takes place in January in Las Vegas. Golub will be there with close to 200 other players looking for one last chance to garner interest from college programs.
Whenever Golub sorts out his college plans — whether he catches on with a Division 1 school or opts for a Division 3 program with a good academic reputation — he will continue to work out, refine his technique, and live up to his own demanding standards.
“The goal when I get there is to win the starting spot,” Golub said. “It’s going to be hard, but if I can get there, I can earn it.”Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.