In putting together a Kyle Wojta highlight tape for prospective small college football recruiters, the focal point was on Wojta’s play as a high school tight end at Madison La Follette. On a whim, perhaps, some bonus coverage was added at the end of the video featuring Wojta as a long snapper.
The Wojta recruiting tape was sent to Augustana College (Sioux Falls, S.D), North Dakota State (Fargo), Winona (Minn.) State, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Whitewater, among others. All showed varying degrees of interest in Wojta as a tight end. “I was really trying to go to Wisconsin,” he confessed of his hometown Badgers. “But they weren’t recruiting me.”
As it turned out, UW assistant Bob Bostad viewed the video and asked to see more. Not of Wojta, the tight end, but of Wojta, the long snapper. “So we put together a tape of just snaps,” said Wojta, a redshirt junior whose name is pronounced WHITE-a. “He (Bostad) liked it, and the next thing I know I got a call saying I could come here as a walk-on.”
Despite having a partial offer from Augustana, which would have lessened the financial burden on his mom and dad, Kay and Todd, there was no question what Kyle Wojta wanted to do. “Growing up in Madison and being a Badger fan all of my life,” he said, “it meant so much more being able to come here. I really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Up to that point, Wojta hadn’t paid much attention to long snapping. During his junior season at La Follette, he was talked into doing it after the returning snapper left the program. “They said, ‘Hey, Wojta why don’t you just try it?’ ” he recalled. “And I just happened to be good at throwing a football between my legs.”
Once he got the invitation to join the Badgers, he decided to go to school on the history behind this specialty. Two names surfaced: Mike Schneck and Matt Katula. Both were former UW walk-on long snappers who went on to successful careers in the National Football League.
During Wojta’s freshman year, there were a handful of long snappers on the roster, including two returning letterwinners, Steve Johnson and Dave Peck. “The whole college atmosphere was pretty overwhelming at first,” admitted Wojta, “but it was nothing that I couldn’t handle. Especially with my family support.”
Wojta waited two years before getting his first opportunity to be a contributor on special teams. Last season, he was the long snapper for punter Brad Nortman, while Drew Woodward, a fifth-year senior, handled all of the snaps for kicker Philip Welch.
In last December’s Champs Sports Bowl, Wojta made his unexpected debut as a snapper for Welch on a field goal attempt. “That was a weird situation,” he said. “And I was not ready at all.”
On fourth-and-1 from the Miami 11-yard-line, the Badgers had called a timeout to talk over what they wanted to do next. Woodward was taking some warmup snaps behind the bench when Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema signaled for the field goal unit.
“I was kind of looking up in the stands and enjoying the game because we were playing well and driving the ball,” Wojta said. “Then I heard a bunch of people yelling, ‘Woody, Woody.’ One of the GAs (grad assistants) came up and asked me, ‘Where’s Woody? We’ve got to find him.’
“So I thought to myself, ‘I’ll do it,’ and I threw on my helmet and ran out there. I hadn’t attempted any field goal snaps in warmups. And the only thing going through my mind was, ‘Don’t snap it high.’ It was a little low and Chris Maragos made a good hold.”
And Welch’s 29-yard field goal split the uprights, giving the Badgers a 20-7 lead. “It was still a nerve-wracking experience,” Wojta said.
Maybe a defining one, too, according to UW assistant Charlie Partridge, who oversees the kicking teams. “He was on top of the situation and it says a lot about him,” Partridge said.
This season, Wojta is carrying around 225 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame, along with the dual responsibility of snapping for Nortman and Welch. “There’s not much difference in technique,” he said of snapping for the placements. “The biggest thing is trying to make it easy for the holder.”
UW’s backup punter, Ryan Wickesberg, is now the holder replacing Maragos. “And we’ve been working on trying to get the snap perfect,” Wojta said, “to where Ryan catches it and the laces are (pointed) towards the field goal posts. It’s a matter of making Phil’s job that much easier.”
Why Wickesberg? Why not use a backup quarterback? Or some other skill position player? “I’m a big fan of this,” Partridge said, “because it gives a guy (Wickesberg) who loves being a part of the team a role. Plus, he’s good at it. And it allows your snapper, holder and kicker to work together like clockwork in practice.”
Wojta recognizes that the best thing about being a snapper is obscurity. Unless, of course, you make a tackle covering a punt. He made a couple last season. “In general,” he said, “you don’t want anyone to know your name because that means you’ve messed up.”
Messing up is sometimes a part of growing up. Two years ago, Wojta and his girlfriend, Allison, were in a car accident and they were both lucky to escape without injuries. “It was a life-changing experience,” Wojta said. “It makes you step back and take look at yourself and your life. You realize that you can’t take anything for granted.”
Which, on a whole different level, applies to his specialty role on this football team. Partridge, for one, will never take a snap for granted. Nor will Wojta. “I’m just trying to uphold the tradition of good snappers at Wisconsin,” Wojta said.