Jesse Boone was not born a center. In fact, he was nowhere near the interior of the offensive line until he sent his highlight tape to different colleges.
"I found a fit at tight end, and I played tight end and defensive end all through high school," Boone said. "I sent my tape up to the University of Utah and they took one look at it and said 'You're going to be an offensive lineman.'"
For a college scholarship, Boone wasn't going to argue.
Eventually, Boone moved from tight end to left tackle to center, becoming a decorated lineman for the Utes before embarking on a professional career. After brief stints with the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders, he currently plays for the Las Vegas Locos of the United Football League.
Playing center is unique. You don't have to deal with athletic defensive ends screaming around the edge toward your quarterback. But you do have stresses all your own.
"The proximity of the players--how everything is right on top of you," Boone said of his biggest adjustment to playing center. "A lot of people struggle with snapping the ball. I had a good coach that went over that with me. But not having the time you have at other positions like guard and especially tackle. At center, the (nose tackle) is inches away from my head (before the snap). You don't have any time."
The center also is in charge of snapping the football--often a number of different ways. There's the direct snap under center, where the quarterback puts his hands between the center's legs and grabs the ball directly out of his hands. There's also the shotgun snap, where the quarterback is several yards back and the center has to flip the ball between his legs accurately into the quarterback's hands.
Nowadays, more and more teams at the amateur level are turning to the spread offense, which is primarily a shotgun snap. That puts more attention on the center's expectation to get the play started smoothly.
"We have fumbled snaps in practice, and everybody hates that," Boone said. "The center blames the quarterback, the quarterback blames the center, the coaches blame everybody. You ruin a play and you're wasting time."
So what's the key to consistently delivering a picture-perfect shotgun snap?
"The most important thing is to not think about it," Boone said. "When I start thinking about that snap and start thinking that it has to be a perfect snap, that's when I put it over his head. If I don't even think about it and it's muscle memory and I'm just moving my wrist a certain way, then it flies right back in his hands and it's perfect every time."
Centers are also considered the leaders of the offensive line. Since they're right in the middle of the line and control the start of the play, fellow linemen rely on the center to make sure everyone is on the same page. If everyone is on the same page, the play has a much better chance of working out.
"A lot of guys struggle with the mental aspect of center, because you really are required to make a lot of reads and a lot of decisions and make line calls for the entire offense to go off of," Boone said. "That stuff has always come easy for me. I've had some really good coaches who taught me football rather than football plays. I understand the concept of the plays and I understand why we're doing them."
Setting up the play, calling out assignments, snapping the ball accurately and blocking a defensive tackle breathing down your neck. It's no wonder centers are the true unsung hero of every football team.