Arizona Cardinals Home: The official source of the latest Cardinals headlines, news, videos, photos, tickets, rosters and game day information

The Accidental Athlete

Nathan Hodel had a long journey to become NFL long snapper

Long snapper Nathan Hodel (48) is helped off the field by kicker Neil Rackers and Dr. Michael Dersam after Hodel badly sprained his ankle against Atlanta last season. Hodel still managed to play in his 96th straight game against St. Louis in the season finale.
Long snapper Nathan Hodel (48) is helped off the field by kicker Neil Rackers and Dr. Michael Dersam after Hodel badly sprained his ankle against Atlanta last season. Hodel still managed to play in his 96th straight game against St. Louis in the season finale.

Perhaps Nathan Hodel's perspective was formed as a kid, when his father took him out searching for empty aluminum cans on Saturdays to generate grocery money for the family.

Perhaps it was formed right after college, while he was sitting on his couch trying to figure out his future when one of his coaches called to inform him the NFL was interested in him – a concept he had never really considered.

Perhaps it's derived from the fact he's a long snapper, the oft-forgotten part of a roster – the one that is almost invisible despite Hodel's seven seasons in a Cardinal uniform, or the 96 consecutive games he has played.

Yet this is what such perspective has produced: "I think it is the coolest thing in the world that, just because I have this job, I can talk to kids or people that are in the hospital because they had something bad happen to them, and then their day is better," Hodel said. "Or kids, you can affect them as far as education, or affect their lives a little bit."

Cliché as it might be, Hodel strikes you as the kind of pro athlete you might be if, all of a sudden, you had a chance to be a pro athlete.

His job isn't simple. It takes a talent, just like every other position on the field. There is a reason long snappers often last forever, and it's not because teams don't want to bother with it. Usually, it's because it's difficult to find a good one – and you don't want your special teams running into a proverbial ditch because you have a bad one.

Yet Hodel also understands he is lucky to be where he is. Maybe that's why he has gone to hospitals, unsolicited, to visit a fan who is ill. It's why he teamed up with kicker Neil Rackers Thursday to put on a charity golf tournament to raise money for a local family dealing with cancer.

It's why he was low-key in his contract negotiations – he is his own agent – with the Cardinals despite his free-agent status this offseason. Returning to Arizona was delayed because of the prolonged Larry Fitzgerald contract talks, and Hodel did talk to other teams.

Ultimately, though, he wanted to stick around and knew the Cardinals wanted him around. So he waited, and, as he has found with many things in his life, it worked out.

Hodel's entry into the NFL in itself is an interesting yarn. He thought his college coach was joking with him when the coach called to ask Hodel who his agent was in the winter of 2001.

Turns out, NFL teams were interested, and while Hodel wasn't drafted, he did end up signing with the Carolina Panthers.

Sure, he was cut from the practice squad a few weeks into the season. But before Hodel could even reach his agent, the Cardinals had already contacted Hodel's guy, looking for the heir apparent to the aging Trey Junkin.

Hodel spent most of the rest of that season on the practice squad, and then took over for good in 2002.

"I stepped in and tried to stay under the radar," he said.

It's not hard for a long snapper, unless his snaps go errant. Hodel has managed to avoid those circumstances.

Instead, he became the Cardinals' union representative after punter and close friend Scott Player was released last year. He dabbles in photography, animation and graphic design, with an eye toward a post-football career.

Hodel knows football won't last forever. Then again, for a long snapper, it could come close – look at Junkin (20 seasons) or the Scottsdale-bred Dale Hellestrae (15 seasons).

"If I wanted to be on the front page, I would have tried to be a quarterback," Hodel said. "But shoot, some of the stuff Matt and Kurt have to deal with, they can keep it.

"I can still go out with my family and nobody* knows who I am."

And Hodel's OK with that.

It's about having a little perspective.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.
Advertising