As he runs onto the field in front of a sold-out Memorial Stadium in mid-September, Sean Wracher forces himself to do something difficult.
An atmosphere like this, Indiana’s highly-anticipated matchup against No. 8 Cincinnati in front of 50,000 people, could easily make him overthink. After his freshman season as Indiana’s long snapper, Wracher had a conversation with special teams coordinator Kasey Teegardin. Wracher said he was putting too much pressure on himself and not having fun. Teegardin’s response? No one is perfect.
For Wracher, clearing his mind isn’t easy. He describes his mind as a “big Excel sheet.” Snapping the ball a few inches off his target irks him. Recently, he memorized a 200-page PDF document about “The Vertical Diet,” and the exact nutritional value of a variety of foods are now filed into a folder in his brain.
But now on the sideline, he has a variety of strategies to stay loose. He takes a whiff of smelling salts. He stands on the bench and twirls a towel in the air. As he runs onto the field, he finds something, anything, to look at, except the thousands of people staring down at him. He sees a familiar referee and makes small talk. “What’s up, Tim?” he says. By the time they line up, it devolves into chatter with the other team, where the topic turns to the fact that someone’s socks are too high.
“If I play loose,” Wracher says, “I’m just having fun with it.”
When Wracher crouches down to snap the ball, he allows his mind to turn back on, but still somewhat in autopilot, letting all his preparation for the week take control. He spent hours studying his opponents’ tendencies. He spent hours understanding his own tendencies. He watches for different formations and adjusts his own unit if needed. Depending on the preferred angle of the punt, Wracher has to adjust the direction of the snap.
As a long snapper, Wracher exists in a part of the football realm that lacks grandeur and flash. But punts and field goals — part of a special teams unit prized by Indiana head coach Tom Allen — quite literally can’t function until Wracher makes his move. And despite the fact that Wracher is a three-year starter at Indiana and that Teegardin calls him “the best long snapper in the country,” few fans even know who he is.
Wracher is on the field for only a few seconds at a time.
Many watching don’t blink twice.
Beyond the surface, though, there is something much more complex.
Early on in Wracher’s life, his parents, Matt and Mindy, were convinced that he wasn’t going to be the athlete in the family. And for a variety of reasons.
At age four, Wracher declared to his parents that he was going to be a doctor. In first or second grade, he started asking questions about robotic science. His language capabilities, Mindy says, were “beyond normal for a four-year-old.” He could pick up a Dr. Seuss book and somewhat teach himself to read, albeit not fluently. By kindergarten, he was already reading books aloud to his class. Sometimes, the family would chuckle when Wracher would have articulate conversations with adults.
He’d also often go to the library and read “Sports Illustrated for Kids” and he was able to roll off random stats and facts about teams and players. It was a skill, Mindy learned, that eventually came in handy. One year in high school, Wracher filled out her March Madness bracket and he predicted the outcomes so accurately that she won a cash prize.
There were times when his maturity came in quirky, yet charismatic ways. As a kid, when the family was going out for errands, Wracher would proclaim, “I’m going to wear a suit and tie.” And so he would.
In high school, Wracher wanted his laundry done separately from everyone else because “he was worried a sock would get lost or something,” Mindy says. There’s very little that Wracher doesn’t like…except “he hates dog hair and he hates glitter,” Matt says with a laugh.
As he grew older, the way in which his mind is wired hasn’t changed. At IU, he studies finance at the Kelley School of Business and started an investment account. He currently follows “The Vertical Diet,” which helps digestion, where he eats practically the same foods every day. His breakfast is always cream of rice with peanut butter and raw honey. The next three meals are 800-900 calories of white rice, steak and some sort of vegetable. If he wants to add a new food, he first researches it and then plugs it into his diet spreadsheet, where he determines if it fits into his caloric and micronutrient goals.
“Trying to explain the way I think about things is almost impossible,” Wracher says. “But to me, it makes sense.”
When Wracher was in eighth grade, his football coach saw promise in his snapping abilities.
“This is something you could do in college,” he told Wracher.
“Eh, OK,” he responded, brushing off the idea.
Wracher grew up playing tight end, defensive line and some quarterback. Somewhere in between, his father Matt, who played offensive line at West Virginia and snapped during his career, passed the skill to Wracher. They’d snap in their driveway for fun, but Wracher never thought about doing it seriously.
In high school, though, things changed. Wracher transferred to Saint Ignatius in Cleveland, Ohio, to start high school, where there were around 100 kids on the freshman team. Wracher wasn’t nearly athletic enough to get on the field in a skill position. Long snapping, he figured, would be the way to continue his career.
Wracher started dedicating himself to long snapping. He spent hours in the batting cage in his backyard, firing the pigskin at a target or to his father. He watched videos of snapping. He woke up at 4:45 a.m. to drive 30 minutes for team lifting sessions. After school, he’d go into the gym and snap 100 times. He networked with other snappers. He researched camps and his family traveled around the country — California, Florida, Arizona.
Given how his mind works, Wracher found joy in snapping as “an art of perfection,” he said. Everything was broken down to a science. He could see something in his form and the direct correlation in the result. Wracher sent weekly film to his snapping coach Adam Tanalski, where they’d pick apart exactly what he did wrong.
“I think that cerebral side or academic side just translates to his extracurriculars,” Mindy said. “He questions. He researches. He strives to be a perfectionist.”
In the winter of his junior year, Wracher went to a Kohl’s kicking underclass event and was the best snapper there, earning his first offer from Toledo. He was eventually rated as a five-star prospect by KohlsKicking.com and was an All-District Selection, recording a 100 percent snap efficiency at Saint Ignatius. He accepted a scholarship offer to Indiana where, during some of their meetings, Allen broke down long snapping unlike any other coach his parents had heard, outlining the different ways the ball needs to be snapped based on the style of kick. Allen told Wracher he’d be the starter immediately.
By then, Matt’s willingness to train with Wracher became limited. The ball stung his hand too much.
“I’ll catch three,” Matt says, “And then I’m done.”
On a rainy night at Memorial Stadium, Wracher’s snap was a little bit high. It was the first quarter against Ohio State and the ball squirted through punter Jared Smolar’s hands and into the endzone, where he was tackled for a safety. Although it was a snap that Smolar might normally catch, the ball was slick, the turf was slick and the delivery wasn’t perfect.
After the play, Wracher sat alone on the bench for a second, then a teammate tapped him on the leg in encouragement. He paced down the sideline and talked to a coach before making his way back to the bench. At least from afar, he didn’t let the one slight miscue affect his performance. For the rest of the game, his snaps are right on target.
Much of Wracher’s career at IU has been focused on just that: accepting that mistakes are inevitable. There have been times where Teegardin would say, “Hey, you had a good day,” and Wracher wouldn’t accept it, instead of responding with constructive criticism. Other times, Wracher would be hard on himself for missing a target by a couple of inches. After games, when most players go out to eat, Wracher goes right home and watches film, followed by a long text to Teegardin with an analysis of his performance.
"He’s the most consistent that I’ve been around, but he’s human,” Teegardin said. “He’s going to make mistakes. Just helping him understand that, realize those little things.”
Some of the pressure, though, was difficult to avoid. As a freshman, playing in front of packed stadiums, Wracher was tasked with replacing long snapper Dan Godsil, who signed with the Cincinnati Bengals after leaving Indiana. In anticipation of the challenge, Wracher started a regimented breathing routine to calm himself. As a freshman, he had to teach himself how to block the crowd and atmosphere out. If he gets nervous now, he looks at his towel which has Mark 9:23 written on it: “All things are possible to him who believes.”
While doing mental acrobatics, Wracher quickly established himself as one of the best long snappers in the Big Ten. In his first two seasons, he started all 21 games as Indiana’s short and long snapper. In both seasons, he was named Phil Steele third-team All-Big Ten. This season, he’s started all seven games and he’s putting up NFL-level snap times of 0.7 seconds.
Teegardin has seen Wracher have more fun too. Before meetings during fall camp, Wracher and kicker Charles Campbell held a spontaneous spelling bee, where they put a camera in front of their teammates and gave them words to spell. When the name, image and likeness news hit this summer, Wracher, wearing sunglasses, peppered Teegardin with questions about what he could do. After a film session earlier this season, Teegardin accidentally skipped past a play.
“C’mon coach, you got to lock in,” Wracher joked with Teegardin after.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Teegardin said with a laugh.
It’s also come with the challenge of stepping up as a leader, both verbally and by example. Wracher normally arrives at the facility around 6 a.m. He started doing hot yoga and pilates to help his mobility. Among the specialists, Wracher created a rule that they have to be in their seats 10 minutes before meetings start.
There was a time when Wracher wanted to be a doctor and dismissed the idea of long snapping. But now, guided yet challenged by the intricacies of his own mind, Wracher’s goal of making it to the NFL is now closer to becoming a reality.
“Nobody, as a kid, dreams of being a long snapper,” Wracher says. “But it worked out.”