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Casey Dunn: Long snapper gets thrill of his life against Michigan

Kate Gales | Friday, November 12, 2004

Life doesn’t always go according to plan, and no one knows that better than Casey Dunn.

Once a diehard Miami fan who yearned to play on an Ivy League offensive line, he has thrived as the long snapper for Notre Dame this season.

“I was just a freshman deer-in-the-headlights type deal,” Dunn said of his days as a preferred walk-on in August of 2001. “[I tried] to figure out what was going on around me – it was definitely a learning experience.”

The Miami resident grew up rooting for the Hurricanes and wanting to attend an Ivy League college. However, the combination of academics and Division-I athletics tipped the scales in favor of Notre Dame – that balance, and an emotional family connection to the University.

“I honestly didn’t know anything about Notre Dame football before I got here,” said Dunn. “It was just a whole new experience for me and that’s probably been the best part of this experience for me, coming in here not knowing much about the history of Notre Dame football.”

He did know that his grandfather grew up a diehard Notre Dame fan, watching the games on television throughout his lifetime.

“I never met my grandfather but it was a place my dad always held in high esteem because [my] grandfather loved it,” said Dunn. “I applied there just on a whim.”

Dunn saw some reps and limited action at practice team for offensive guard and offensive tackle. His opportunity to take the field came after his sophomore year, when the long snapper position opened up.

Since Dunn took over at long snapper during his junior season, the Irish have been grateful for that whim. He has yet to be credited with a bad snap, going over 140 consecutive plays without a missed ball. For someone who snapped in just one game in high school, it has been a road of transitions.

“I basically picked [long-snapping] up in the off season, through spring practice, then two-a-days my junior year I was able to win the long-snapping job,” Dunn said. “That was my opportunity to get on the field and play and I took the opportunity and ran with it.”

The change from offensive lineman to long snapper involved losing weight, gaining speed, learning to block immediately after the punt and learning a new mental attitude.

“It’s physically somewhat challenging, snapping the ball and blocking at the same time is tough to do,” Dunn recalled. “[But] I’d say it’s more mentally challenging in terms of always wanting a perfect snap and get the ball back there to the punter so he can get the ball off. I remember when I first got the job everyone was like ‘You picked that job? If you screw up everybody’s going to know.’ You can’t screw up, ever.”

But Dunn has done more than just snap well and execute blocks. This September, he catapulted into the public eye when he recovered a fumble in the home-opener against rival Michigan.

“Recovering that fumble was incredible – for sure one of the best experiences of my life so far,” he said. “There’s nothing that can describe standing up with the ball raised above your head and 80,000 people going crazy especially against a team like Michigan … at Notre Dame Stadium, a stadium filled with history, it’s surreal.”

This season will mark the last time Dunn steps on a football field as an athlete, as he moves on to medical school after graduating with a degree in the College of Science’s Pre-Professional Studies. As he moves on, the former Zahm resident will take with him the storied Notre Dame experience from academics, football and life on the Notre Dame campus.

“As much as everybody hates Zahm, I love Zahm to death,” he recalled. “It’s the closest brotherhood I know aside from the football team.”

He earned high grades in the challenging College of Science and is looking to interview at medical schools in order to pursue a career as a doctor “who works with people.”

“Just coming here and being part of this whole environment – it was incredible. I’d never seen snow before,” Dunn recalled. “It was just one of those things where I decided to pick myself up and put myself in a whole new environment, and it’s worked out pretty well.”

The Irish special teams would agree, as Dunn has become an essential component to every successful punt.