Duffy Daugherty Football Building
East Lansing, MI
Perhaps one of the biggest losses the #12 Michigan State Spartan 2015 Final Four playoff team had was long snapper Taybor Pepper. One of the best in the nation, he was so good that you never heard of him.
At that position you only know their name when they fail. It is fair, but it is a reality. Fans may not be clamoring with questions of who will fill the role as the Spartans enter the 2016 season, but football people are.
One name has emerged as the leader as the season approaches. You haven’t heard of him, but that is OK. He isn’t bitter about it.
Mark Dantonio has called special teams the most important part of the game and the punt the biggest play in football. So when your head coach builds a philosophy off of that mantra the long snapper’s role is gigantic.
Collin Caflisch is a red shirt freshman from Canton, MI. He is from a football family with a grandfather, a father, and brother who all played college football. He is unassuming and often away from the pack.
Now don’t misconstrue that statement to think he is aloof or standoffish from his teammates, he just kind of beats to his own drum. That is why earlier this year when one of his teammates who has a great shot at being a captain told me, “You should do a story on the Catfish,” I was a little surprised.
The young man who collects Hawaiian shirts and ugly Christmas sweaters is embraced by his teammates in a very good way like the crazy uncle everyone loves. He is quick to smile, willing to work, and keeps what can be a very tense time light. Prompting one of his teammates to say, “I think everyone just likes hanging with him, he is pretty entertaining.”
In fact, one of his teammates recalled when Collin joined the team last year how he introduced himself. “He gets up there and he says his name kind of quiet, but then like wakes up with a big smile and says, ‘My friends call me Catfish.’ We were all like quiet? Is he for real? Then he told us, ‘Get it? Like my name?’ We all burst out laughing and the Catfish was spawned.”
I am not one to shy from talking about the specialists and that is why I started to dig on this young man. When MSU released the first depth chart of the season they didn’t list the long snappers so I had an inkling the Catfish wasn’t as solid as his teammates had suggested. I was wrong.
Dantonio told me early in camp, “Collin is working with our ones and he is having a nice camp. Long way to go, he has to keep working, but he is having a nice camp.” Late last week special teams’ coordinator Mark Snyder referenced Caflisch saying, “Collin is doing really good, working hard.”
So the walk on from Canton, MI. via Louisiana (he moved here to start his junior year) has a lot in front of him. Mark Dantonio gives scholarships to players who get into the rotation and stay there and with MSU being an expensive school that is a large carrot to dangle in front of the young man.
He told me, “It is definitely really humbling being the walk on that I was and be able to play this year and (potentially) earn a scholarship. I am really working hard for that.”
Caflisch’s grandpa and father were both offensive lineman and his brother a prized athlete, so he has the genes. An injury early in his senior year really hindered the recruitment of the young man, but he credits Michigan State for not backing off.
His father Todd told me that his son’s quest for a scholarship is a major thing for his young burgeoning star. “Obviously there is a final side of it. It sort of closes the loop for him with the whole recruiting thing. He was hurt a lot his senior year of high school and I think he was injured like the 2nd game and didn’t come back until the playoff. That will close that loop for him that he is a scholarship level kid.”
Sibling rivalry is known to motivate many of us and Todd added of his son Collin’s journey for his full ride, “There is pressure from his older brother who played at A&M on a full ride. We support him either way.”
What will it be like for Collin if he is able to earn that precious scholarship from Mark Dantonio? He told me thinking of that moment, “I am probably going to cry. I will be so happy not to have to pay for school anymore. It is going to be hard earned.”
Collin’s mother Debbie said of her son and his attempt to be Michigan State’s next walk on to scholarship story, “I think it is an achievement that is within his grasp. We have bounced around a little bit and he has been taken out of programs. Started out in pop warner in Texas and he then moved to Louisiana with another team and another coach and another group of kids. Now he is in a place that he wanted to go and the fact that the coaches wanted him and believed in him and invited him to join the team. Even if he had been offered a scholarship somewhere else he would have went to MSU.”
So for Collin what does he need to do to keep seeing his dreams come true? You can tell that he is listening close to his coach, because he sounds the Mark Dantonio war cry for consistency. “It means I have to come out every day and keep earning it, the starting positon.”
He went on to add, “You’ve got to have fun with the process, especially during camp. It just keeps dragging on and on and on. It feels like day 20 when you are at day 10. You have to stay positive and love it.”
But for the young Spartan, his temperament never goes far from home. He doesn’t take a look-at-me attitude. He credits his parents for the work ethic that has brought him this far, looking at the precipice of his dream.
“My parents strive and are perfectionists. I hated it kind of growing up through high school and middle school, I got used to it and it has helped me carry on through here.”
He continued about mom and dad saying, “I owe them everything. They have supported me throughout all of this. Even when I didn’t play here last year they came to all of the games. They drove to the Big Ten Championship game and the Cotton Bowl. They are with me 100% of the way.”
When you first talk with Caflisch, you have to wonder if the aw shucks boy next door approach is just good coaching from a father who is highly successful in the major sports industry. You learn quickly he hasn’t been prepped.
That quality that has endeared “The Catfish” to his teammates is genuine. He flashes a grin when I asked him if earning the scholarship is more for mom and dad then him and said, “It is mostly 80% for them. I want to earn a scholarship so I am not fully dependent on them. I know my mom is going to cry. I definitely know that for a fact. They will both be very happy. My dad will say, ‘Sweet, good job,” he always does when anything I do that is good.”
Camp is a long thing. Seasons are longer and careers when looked with 20/20 rearview vision are fast but painfully slow when happening. Who knows how Caflisch’s career will turn out?
The indications are good. His team likes him, his coaches respect him, and his parents have raised him right. With his work ethic, don’t count him out. If you don’t hear much about him over the next four years you will know he is doing well. Long snappers don’t get the praise, but they do the complaints.
Oddly, hidden among his ugly Christmas sweaters and Hawaiian shirts is a young man not coveting the spotlight or wanting attention. He just wants to play the game he loves out of the limelight, making plays at one of the most critical positions no one has ever heard about.
You can call him Collin, but his teammates call him The Catfish, and the Spartans are fortunate to have reeled him in.