Every time Zak DeOssie steps onto the New York Giants’ practice field at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, the 30-year-old long snapper dresses in full pads.
It doesn’t matter if his teammates are in shorts, shells, half pads or full themselves, DeOssie is dressed the exact same way he does on game day. From his helmet, to his shoulder pads and down to his cleats, there’s no difference between Sunday DeOssie and Monday-through-Saturday Zak.
“Why not?” DeOssie said. “I never snap without them.”
It’s that attention to detail that has made DeOssie one of the NFL’s best at one of the game’s least-decorated positions. It’s that same attention to detail that had him voted the Giants’ special teams captain the last two seasons. It’s that same attention to detail that has kept DeOssie in East Rutherford for the last eight years.
He’s not glamorous and he doesn’t want to be. He doesn’t need to hear his named called, see it in lights or plastered across billboards. His job is simple:
“I throw strikes,” DeOssie said.
Something he never thought he’d be doing when he entered the league out of Brown University in 2007.
A NATURAL ABILITY
Sports have always been a big part of DeOssie’s life. In high school at Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts, DeOssie was a three-sport athlete, staring on the baseball diamond, basketball court and football field.
While he loved every sport he played in, there was one that held a place in his heart above any other: Football. DeOssie was his team’s starting quarterback and a good one at that. He was voted to the ‘All-New England’ prep team and dazzled fans with his play under the Friday night lights.
But it wasn’t until a practice his senior year that DeOssie realized he wasn’t just able to throw the ball down the field, but he was pretty good throwing it between his legs, too.
After an injury forced the team’s long snapper to miss extended time, Phillips Academy coach Leon Modeste made a call to one of his player’s parents who had just a little bit of experience in the area. Steve DeOssie, Zak’s dad, who had played both linebacker and long snapper in the NFL for over a decade, came to practice to teach some the team’s players how to snap.
“I was basically just giving some of his teammates and players a few pointers,” Steve DeOssie said. “Next thing I know (Zak) walks over to the group and starts paying attention to everything that’s going on.”
Recalling the moment, Steve DeOssie chuckled thinking of the skinny-legged DeOssie lining up to practice a snap. Zak DeOssie took his stance, spread his legs and then sent the ball flying between his legs 12 yards back with near-perfect accuracy.
It was the first time in his life he’d ever tried to long snap a ball. After a few reps, DeOssie said goodbye to his dad and ran back to the quarterbacks group.
It didn’t matter how good or natural he was because he’d never do it in a game. DeOssie was his team’s punter, too.
A LOST LOVE
When DeOssie committed to Brown University, he gave up his days as a signal caller and turned his attention to bringing opponents down. The physicality and violent nature of being a linebacker was something DeOssie loved.
In his four seasons at Brown, DeOssie started 29 of 36 games. He recorded 315 tackles, 10.5 sacks, forced five fumbles and intercepted four passes. He was voted first-team All-Ivy League three times, was a third-team All-American and a Buchanan Award finalist twice.
He snapped a little his senior year, but he was primarily a linebacker. That’s how he viewed himself. NFL scouts, too. Those that watched DeOssie play loved his 6-4, 249-pound size. He was physical, a natural leader and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds.
When the NFL Draft came, DeOssie heard his named called by a familiar team. The New York Giants, the same team that his dad had played for from 1989-1993, selected DeOssie with in the fourth round. There was only one person in the world who was happier than DeOssie when his name flashed across the bottom of his television set.
“When he got drafted by the Giants, I was so happy for him,” Steve DeOssie said. “He was going somewhere that I knew was as good an organization as there was in the NFL.”
During DeOssie’s first two seasons with the Giants, he primarily saw action on special teams while also working spot duty as a long snapper. When Giants’ veteran Ryan Kuehl was injured in 2007, DeOssie took over as the punt snapper.
But his goal was always the same, he wanted to be an NFL linebacker. That was until a back injury turned his world upside down.
Following the 2008 season, DeOssie had a mico-discectomy on his back in order to help heal a herniated disc. Following the surgery, the Giants approached DeOssie with the team’s doctors and told him he could still play linebacker, but his career wouldn’t last nearly as long.
While DeOssie hadn’t seen any first-team reps at linebacker, he was progressing. Defensively, the game was slowing down and he felt he was making strides. He didn’t know what to do, so he called his dad.
“For a young man to give up his dream, it wasn’t a cut-and-dry situation,” Steve DeOssie said. “We talked about it a lot. He would talk, I would listen and the more he started talking the more he started to realize there’s more than one way to help a team win a game. “
The next season, Jay Alford tore his knee and DeOssie took over as the team’s field goal snapper as well.
“That’s when I said bye to linebacker and hello to long snapper full time,” DeOssie said.
A CHAMPIONSHIP SHARED
When DeOssie and the rest of his teammates were given their championship rings for their Super Bowl victories in 2007 and 2011, it added the second and third rings to the DeOssie family.
Steve DeOssie was a linebacker and long snapper for the Giants’ Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills in 1990. When asked about the accomplishment and the fact both he and his son share rings from championships with the same team, Steve DeOssie’s voice immediately changed.
Steve talked about the times he and his son participate in charitable events together. Be it signings or just appearances, there will be several times throughout where both make eye contact. Nothing is said, but the two share a moment unlike many others.
“We’ll just catch a glance between each other and it’s just like… yeah,” Steve DeOssie said. “One of those inside moments where there’s just a smile or look and it’s almost unimaginable where you don’t know how to express it to somebody.”
A FAMILY MAN
Growing up in Massachusetts, DeOssie’s relationship with his dad wasn’t exactly what many would expect. Football was one of the least talked about topics in the DeOssie household.
When Zak DeOssie began playing pee-wee football, Steve DeOssie stayed back. He wasn’t the coach, wasn’t telling coaches his son should play or teaching fundamentals at the dinner table each night.
The way Steve DeOssie saw it, wherever path Zak’s life took him was fine with him. He didn’t care about Zak DeOssie’s sack total, just his grades.
“If his grades in high school started to sink,” Steve DeOssie said, “The first thing he’d have to give up was sports.”
When Steve DeOssie showed up to help Zak’s high school team learn to long snap, the dad recalls that as the first time he ever shared a field with his son. Now that Zak is a dad of his own – he and his wife Kate welcomed their first son three months ago – he plans to raise his child the same way.
“I’m gonna teach him whatever he wants to learn, just like my old man did,” DeOssie said. “He let me figure it out on my own and guided me along the way.”