How many long snappers do you know of who are team captains?
Meet Joey Palumbo.
About 30 minutes before the Kent State football team's 2019 season opener at Arizona State in late August, the former Hudson High School star learned that he would be representing his fellow specialists by taking part in the pre-game meeting and coin toss at midfield.
"I'm a guy that has a whole pregame routine, so I'm going through that when all of a sudden they tell me I'm a captain — and the speaking captain too," Palumbo said. "It was fun, really exciting. I didn't see it coming at all, which made it that much better."
The Golden Flashes have two of the better specialists in the Mid-American Conference in sophomore kicker Matthew Trickett and junior punter Derek Adams, who are leaders in their own right. But Palumbo was chosen to represent Kent State's special teams by his peers, which made the accolade all the more desirable.
"I honestly think it's one of the greatest honors I've received in my life so far, especially because it was player-voted, seeing that these guys trust me and look at me as that kind of a leader," Palumbo said. "I wouldn't say I'm a vocal leader. I try to do it through my play, being a guy that they can count on. For them to make me a leader of this team really meant the world to me."
Palumbo's journey to the center of Kent State's special teams units began innocently enough about six years ago with a nudge from his father Matt, who was serving as defensive line coach at Hudson High School and was put in charge of the team's snappers.
"I grew up punting actually, didn't start snapping until my sophomore year of high school," Joey Palumbo said. "My dad was like, 'Hey, you want to try this out? See if you're any good?' I did it my sophomore year and I wasn't bad. I never went to instructors or anything. I taught myself really, just me and my dad."
The 6-foot, 214-pound Palumbo continued to handle the long-snapping duties while also starting at tight end and defensive end for the Explorers. He trained for his future role with the Flashes by serving as team captain during his senior year in 2015 when Hudson made its second straight appearance in the state semifinals.
While considering some offers to play regular positions from several Division II and III schools, Palumbo drew interest from Kent State while attending a summer workout.
"They gave me a walk-on offer and I thought it was the perfect fit," Palumbo said.
Adjusting to full-time long-snapper duties took some time for Palumbo.
"It was tough at first because I wasn't used to the role," he said. "I was always kind of the vocal leader in high school, played both sides of the ball. I have a big personality, like to mess around with everybody, but I was pretty shy at first. I just put my nose down and grinded. It really took two years to kind of come out of my shell."
Palumbo became Kent State's starting long snapper as a sophomore in 2017 and was rolling along when a knee injury shelved him for the final five games of the season. He was still recovering when current head coach Sean Lewis took over the program that winter.
"I had heard good things [about Palumbo], but all of us coaches are a little bit skeptical until we're able to evaluate players for ourselves," Lewis said. "He was coming off his injury at that time, so he wasn't 100 percent, but to his credit, he did a great job of working and getting better. Finally, when his health and body got back to where it needed to be, you saw the elite skill that everyone was talking about."
Palumbo served as the Flashes' long snapper throughout the 2018 season. He has bounced back admirably from a low snap in last year's overtime loss to Akron that kept the Flashes from getting off a potential game-tying extra point in the first extra session, performing his duties flawlessly ever since.
"[Long snapping] is a very unique livelihood," Lewis said. "There's a lot of pressure and usually people only know your name when things get screwed up. Joey trains like a football player first and foremost. He's one of the first ones in the weight room. It's something you can't fake.
"The guys recognize it and have elevated him to a certain status on the team that's very special. His specialty, his elite skill that he provides to this family, is to long snap and he takes great pride in that."
Palumbo received the reward every walk-on dreams of last winter when Lewis put him on scholarship.
"That meant the world; that was everything," said Palumbo, whose grandfather Sam played for the Cleveland Browns and two other NFL teams. "I felt like I showed my teammates what I could do and they put that trust in me."
That trust has been earned. according to Lewis.
"He's a selfless kid who has battled through some adversity and become a highly respected member of the program," Lewis said. "It's always special to see a kid's hard work pay off for him and his family. And there hasn't been any sort of complacency at all since that moment. I think that moment really just validated the hard work that he put in and made him even hungrier to prove he deserved it."
On Saturday, Palumbo will stroll to midfield for the team captains’ meeting before Kent State battles rival Akron at InfoCision Stadium. No current member of the squad was on the active roster when the Flashes last defeated the Zips in 2014, so Palumbo and his fellow seniors are on a mission to regain the coveted Wagon Wheel.
"It's the most important game on the schedule," Palumbo said. "This is my fourth year and I've never had the Wheel. We have to be able to look at it every day, just touch it every day. That's all we're thinking about, getting our hands on the Wheel."