Hunter Varga sees a path to a free college education, and it's a short one.
The path is only 15 yards long, from between his hunched-over legs to the out-stretched hands of one of his teammates.
A junior at Amboy High School, Varga has established himself as one of the premier long-snappers in the high school class of 2015. That is according to Rubio Long-Snapping owner Chris Rubio, who operates camps that specialize in that skill all over the country.
The 6-foot, 220-pound Varga has attended long-snapping camps in Las Vegas this past winter, then at Notre Dame, Northwestern and Sherman Oaks, Calif., this summer, and he's caught Rubio's attention. Rubio ranks 168 long-snappers in the class of 2015, and Varga checks in at No. 23.
He's currently viewed as a Division II college prospect.
"Varga continues to impress me with his attitude and his snapping," Rubio wrote in a player review of Varga. "Body is improving, and he is gaining some height. Very accurate and consistent with his snapping. I want to see him loosen up his elbows a bit so he can whip the ball back and get some great speed on the ball.
"Speed will be key for Varga moving up the rankings. This kid can snap at the next level, and the speed of the ball will be the key. I am surprised anytime he doesn't win a competition since he is so accurate."
Varga noted a top Division I long-snapper gets the ball back to the punter in about seven-tenths of a second, on a tight spiral with the ball going directly to the punter's hands, about waist high. Varga's average 15-yard snap time, according to his player profile on Rubio's website, is at .79 of a second.
"I've got the spiral down, and my form is pretty good," Varga said. "I've just been working on a little bit more speed, snapping it harder and getting more speed on the ball."
Varga has gotten to know other long-snappers through attending Rubio's camps, including Scott Daly of Notre Dame, Scott Sypniewski of Michigan (and Ottawa Marquette H.S.) and Gabe Miller of Nebraska. Each has earned a college scholarship on his ability to hike the ball through his legs to a punter in a short amount of time.
Varga hopes to do the same, and plans to study law enforcement in college. His father, John Varga, is the Lee County Sheriff.
"It's a great opportunity for me to go to school on a scholarship," Varga said.
It hasn't always been smooth sailing for Varga, however. He was a two-way starting lineman for the Amboy fresh-soph team last fall, but came up to the varsity for long-snapping duties. His very first snap, against Riverdale, bounced back to punter Canaan Ross.
"A shortstop would have had a hard time trying to field that thing," Amboy coach Gary Jones said with a smile.
"Other than that, I was money most of the time," Varga said. "I think that was just nerves. That was kind of embarrassing."
Jones never thought about replacing him, though, and the rest of the season went off without a hitch. That hasn't always been the case, as some previous Amboy long-snappers lobbed the ball back to the punter.
"In years past, we've had some of those snaps get dew drops on there, and all I can think about is it getting blocked," Jones said. "Hunter gets it back there, he's got that line-drive bullet, and he hits the punter in the hands. That's a great plus."
This season, Varga will be more than a special teams weapon. He's penciled in as the Clippers' starting center, in the middle of an offensive line that figures to be one of the team's strengths.
"I've put in a lot of work this offseason," Varga said, "and I'm looking forward to getting in there. I've played with these guys since fourth grade, so I can't wait."
High school: Amboy
FYI: 23rd-ranked long-snapper in class of 2015, according to long-snapping guru Chris Rubio. ... Will be Clippers' starting center this season