The Saban 250: 10 Alabama Special-Teams Players to Remember

BamaCentral marks the end of the Nick Saban coaching era with the definitive rankings of his top 250 players with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide long snapper Cole Mazza (55) prepares to snap the ball against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide long snapper Cole Mazza (55) prepares to snap the ball against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Take a moment and think back to the last time that you saw an Alabama Crimson Tide long-snapper send a ball sailing, or had a really bad snap. Those saved by the holder don’t really count because that’s part of his job on the play, to make things go as smoothly as possible even when he needs to field a snap like a baseball infielder.

You may need a while to think of one. Most of the Crimson Tide’s long-snappers have all but had flawless records of late, while bringing the term “specialist” to the highest level. Many former Alabama long-snappers have gone on to play at the next level even though it can be the scarcest job in the NFL (think of it, there are 32 teams and each often has only one long-snapper. Openings don’t happen that often, and good long-snappers can have careers go double digits in years as long as they keep hitting the mark).

Which brings us to a funny story about Brian Selman, Alabama’s long-snapper when Nick Saban took over in 2007. Nowadays long-snappers often get specialized training and attend camps. Plus, there’s now even a national honor for the position’s player of the year (the Patrick Mannelly Award).

Selman? His only experience as a long-snapper was one season at Vestavia Hills High School, just outside of Birmingham. After arriving at the University of Alabama on an academic scholarship, he tried out as a walk-on and was the backup in 2006 before taking over as the starter during Nick Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa.

In 2009, Selman was in the final season of this collegiate career and still perfect on snaps with the Crimson Tide. That was until Sept. 12, 2009, when on third-and-9 at the Alabama 18 against Florida International, and the Crimson Tide up only 26-14, he suddenly sent the ball over punter P.J. Fitzgerald’s head. A horrified Selman looked completely stunned, and the play being blown dead only added to the initial confusion.

The Golden Panthers (they’ve since ditched the golden part and are just called the Panthers), were offside. Five yards were marched off. Selman hit the subsequent snap with Fitzgerald getting off a 40-yard punt, and Alabama scored touchdowns on its final two possessions to win going away, 40-14.

The longshot Sleman finished his career without a missed snap. His final game was the national title win against Texas.

“For it to end up in the Rose Bowl, winning the national championship is certainly surreal to me,” Selman said at the time.

10 Special-Teams Players Not to Forget ...

The Saban 250 includes 50 players who many not have had the strongest statistics for the Crimson Tide, including 20 on offense, 20 on defense, and these 10 on special teams:

Joseph Bulovas, K, 2018-19

He didn’t finish his career at Alabama, but over 26 games made 22 field goals and finished third on the season all-time list for most extra points (and sixth career). His 75 point-after kicks made set an Alabama record in 2018, and his 117 totals points averaged 7.8 per game. Totaled 83 points as a sophomore, while his 78 kickoffs for 4,091 yards averaged 52.4 yards

Cade Foster, K, 2010-13

With a strong leg, Nick Saban often used him on kickoffs and field-goal attempts of 44 yards or longer.  As a senior he was 60-for-60 on extra points, and 12 of 17 on field goals, resulting in 96 points. What we especially liked was the former linebacker made nine special-team tackles and forced a fumble

Kneeland Hibbett, LS, 2021-23*

• 2023 All-SEC

Walked on to the Crimson Tide in 2021, and hasn’t been credited with a missed snap yet. Last season was named to the Mannelly Award Watch List, presented since 2019 to the nation's top long snapper. Had a fumble recovery against Auburn in 2022

Cole Mazza, LS, 2013-16

            Four-year starter for the Crimson Tide who never had a missed snap in 165 opportunities as a senior, 151 as a junior, 142 as a sophomore and 125 as a freshman (583 total). The closest thing to a blemish was missing two games due to an injury

Andy Pappanastos, K, 2016-17

The transfer from Ole Miss had to wait a year before taking over kicking duties, but posted 110 points to rank seventh in single-season scoring by a kicker.  He finished 18-for-25 (72.0 percent) on field goal attempts and a perfect 56 of 56 on PATs as a senior

Ty Perine, P, 2019

From 2018-20, Alabama kept trying various punters, when the walk-on stepped up and may have been the surprise of the 2019 season. Taking over midway through the Tennessee rivalry game, he punted 13 times for 581 yards down the stretch, averaging 44.7 yards per boot with three punts of 50-plus yards. He was named to the Freshman All-SEC Team by league coaches

Chris Rogers, DB, 2007-09

Our wild-card selection. The holdover defensive back from the previous coach played four season and was credited with 43 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. However, the only time he reached the end zone was off a blocked kick against Tulane in 2008

Brian Selman, LS, 2007-09

Three-year starter. In four seasons, he connected on nearly 400 snaps without a miss. Also credited with two career tackles and recovered a fumble against Virginia Tech.

Jeremy Shelley, K, 2010-12

Famously made all five field goals attempted in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game against LSU, of 23, 34, 41, 35 and 44 yards. Finished career with 44 field goals made on 55 attempts, and 172 point-after attempts. Made all 11 field goals and 69 extra points attempted in 2012, which earned him the Vlade Award as the nation’s most accurate kicker

Carson Tinker, LS, 2010-12

 Walk-on who was awarded a scholarship in 2012. Appeared in 38 games over four seasons. Accepted the 2011 Disney Wild World of Sports Spirit Award on behalf of the entire Crimson Tide team in recognition for the collective effort in the helping Tuscaloosa in the aftermath of the tornado

September 3, 2011; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama snapper Carson Tinker (51) on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Kent State Golden Flashes at Bryant Denny Stadium. Alabama defeated Kent State 48-7.  Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
September 3, 2011; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama snapper Carson Tinker (51) on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Kent State Golden Flashes at Bryant Denny Stadium. Alabama defeated Kent State 48-7. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports / John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Looking Back: The Disney Award

When a summons comes out of the blue that University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban wants to see you in his office it can understandably cause one to hesitate, especially a player.

Long-snapper Carson Tinker was no exception during fall camp, and like so many others went through a mental list of what he might have done, or could possibly be wrong, only to resign himself to his fate and head upstairs. 

It had already been a whirlwind few months for the senior who accepted the Disney Spirit Award on behalf of the Crimson Tide on the prestigious Home Depot Awards Show, enjoyed winning the national championship in New Orleans, and over the summer finished his degree and graduated.

So naturally he kind of feared the worst long before Saban hit the button on his desk to electronically close the door, when in reality his trepidation had been unwarranted. Once the two were alone, the coach happily informed Tinker that he was being given a scholarship after serving as a walk-on his first three seasons.

The senior who had been through so much, not only said “Thank you,” but hugged Saban.   

“I think that made him feel a little awkward,” Tinker said with a big smile on his face. “It's an honor.”

Saban also enjoyed telling reporters while announcing the decision. 

“We're very excited that we're able to award a guy that has been such a positive influence in so many ways -- personally, academically and athletically in our program,” Saban said.

That may have been a huge understatement. In addition to being the “guy” who had practically been perfect snapping the ball, and an extremely popular player among teammates, Tinker was the one thrust into the spotlight the most after the April 27th tornados ripped through Tuscaloosa and the rest of the state.

While former player Javier Arenas had barely survived, linebacker Courtney Upshaw raised nearly $20,000 in his hometown of Eufaula, offensive linebacker Barrett Jones lugged a chainsaw for days to help clear debris, and numerous players spent a lot of time in the Holt neighborhood where the Nick’s Kids Foundation played a major part in the rebuilding of 14 homes – one for each championship – none of them experienced anything like Tinker did that day.  

When the storm hit, he had his girlfriend Ashley Harrison took refuge with his roommates and their dogs in a closet at his house. As it disintegrated from the direct hit, Tinker was thrown and sustained a concussion in addition to wrist and ankle injuries.

Harrison wasn’t as fortunate. She was one of approximately 240 deaths in Alabama, and 350 people killed in six states from the outbreak.

Yet while recovering Tinker reached out to other storm victims including a 10-year-old boy who lost his mother, father and sister. He spoke at churches, talked openly about dealing with loss and grief, and tried to take the words “role model” to heart.

“Carson Tinker probably lost the most and has given the most,” Saban said. “I'm very proud to be a part of this and I think a lot of other people should be as well. I think it's the way we should do things and think I'm proud of the example we try to set in helping our community. I'm talking about the university as a whole, and the football program as a whole.”

Despite the massive emotional and physical toll, Tinker was ready to go at the start of training camp in August and didn’t miss a practice. Upon the conclusion of the regular season he also accepted the offer to accept the Disney Award for the most inspirational player or team, and did so with a tear in his eye while numerous teammates who had been up for other awards that night stood with him in support on stage.

“Some people ask for blessings, but we ask to be blessings,” was Tinker’s message on live television. “I’m very proud to say I’m affiliated with the University of Alabama and accept this award.”

“This is a special group,” Saban said in the subsequent interview.

Alabama, of course, went to on to win the national championship, 21-0 over LSU at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, with the Crimson Tide gymnastics, women’s golf and softball teams all following suit before the end of the school year.

But months later when reflecting on everything that had been endured, with the rebuilding process still years away from completion, Saban said that he was prouder of the Disney Spirit Award than of his third crystal football, which had put him in elite company in college football history.

“This team reflected the spirit of the people of the state of Alabama in the way that they overcame the adversity that was created by the terrible tragedies of the tornado,” Saban said. “I can't be proud enough of winning the Disney Spirit award, and the way the students represented the spirit of the people of our state, who had so much to overcome and how you sort of overcome all of that together.”

Previous winners of the award were Tulane in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, the United States Service Academy football teams in 2001, and Boston College player Mark Herzlich in 2009, who despite being the reigning ACC Player of the Year was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer and overcame Ewing’s sarcoma to play again.

“This award does not represent me, it represents our team, our university and the Tuscaloosa community,” Tinker said. “Everyone reached out and pulled together as a family in the face of this tragedy. The tornado took so much from us, but with a spirit of hope and a lot of hard work, we have begun the healing process. I am very proud of how this team and this community rallied together after such a devastating storm.”

No wonder the coach enjoyed giving Tinker his scholarship so much.

“That's awesome,” junior quarterback A.J. McCarron said. “I'm happy for him. The guy has worked hard. Carson has been through a lot and he's bounced back really well from everything he's been through and all that life's thrown at him, all the adversity. He's done a great job of handling everything.”

Naturally, the first thing Tinker did after leaving Saban’s office was call his parents to give them the news.

“They were fired up. It's a big relief on them,” he said. “They can kind of focus on things financially that they've been wanting to focus on. They've been paying out-of-state tuition. I recently got in-state, but I'm happy for them because they can take care of some of the stuff they've been wanting to take care of.”

Next up: The countdown of the top 200 players begins


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Christopher Walsh

CHRISTOPHER WALSH

Christopher Walsh is the founder and publisher of BamaCentral, which first published in 2018. He's covered the Crimson Tide since 2004, and is the author of 26 books including Decade of Dominance, 100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, Nick Saban vs. College Football, and Bama Dynasty: The Crimson Tide's Road to College Football Immortality. He's an eight-time honoree of Football Writers Association of America awards and three-time winner of the Herby Kirby Memorial Award, the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s highest writing honor for story of the year. In 2022, he was named one of the 50 Legends of the ASWA. Previous beats include the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, along with Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. Originally from Minnesota and a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, he currently resides in Tuscaloosa.