Before Golden Tate can dive into the end zone, before Russell Wilson can roll out and throw that pass, Max Unger has to snap him the ball.
Unger touches the ball on every offensive play and nothing starts without him.
“First and foremost, you’ve got to get the ball to the quarterback, and that is something most people kind of take for granted. It’s the focal point of my job – to get it there safely, but it’s a very strange position,” says Unger. “I have the ball in my hands and I have to hike it to the quarterback, who has his hands between my legs, so it’s interesting, to say the least.”
It’s kind of a strange job description from your two-time All-Pro center, but not when you realize Unger has only been playing center for seven years. He did not play center in high school. He was a 25-game starter at left tackle for the University of Oregon before his coach asked him to take a few snaps.
“We had some extra time so he threw me in at center for no apparent reason and so I just played it,” says Unger. “We had a lot of tackles and we graduated a really good center. They wanted to find a combination to get five guys out there and (they) just threw me in there my junior year. It turned out to work pretty well.”
That’s an understatement. Unger was All Pac-10 that first year and a Sports Illustrated All-American. Now, he’s one of the best centers in the game.
Unger says he doesn’t think too much about the snap. He really doesn’t practice it, outside of organized team activities during the off season and training camp. He says there are enough reps in practice.
So what’s going through his mind as he preps for each snap?
“If you’re thinking about the play and some crazy adjustment, you just kind of get rid of that and realize you’ve got to go block somebody. So you kind of clear your mind and just let it rip,” says Unger.
Unger also provides some insight on all the finger-pointing he and his line-mates do before the play.
“There’s a lot of different words that mean a lot of different things, but it sounds mostly like jargon to the casual observer,” says Unger. “It all means something, and it’s just kind of five guys getting on the same page.”
But the communication isn’t necessarily all that complex, he says. Sometimes it’s as simple as Russell Wilson saying “see that guy, block him” and the line responds.
When asked about the most difficult part of his job, the self-deprecating 27-year-old says it’s not all that complicated.
“It’s pretty straight forward; get the ball to the quarterback, man, and go block somebody. It’s not science.”
But part of his job is. Unger is just too polite to tell me so.