One Snap At A Time: The Tanner Doll Story
During the 2016 Grey Cup between the Ottawa Redblacks and the Calgary Stampeders, Ottawa long snapper Tanner Doll sat on the equipment bin as he always did, waiting for his opportunity.
Doll knew the harsh reality of being a long snapper. The only way would he make the highlight reel the next morning - a mistake.
Everyone always talks about the nerves of the kicker during the big moments, but Doll admits that they are there for him too.
“I’m just on the sideline sitting there and I have one job - snap the ball,” said the current B.C. Lion. “If you mess up a snap, forget about the kicker being nervous, because he can’t even kick if the ball doesn’t get there.”
Adding to the pressure was Doll’s rookie status, and this was the first time in his career that he was not playing another position.
“It was weird because I’m not playing defence, I’m not running down trying to make tackles on kickoff,” said Doll. “I didn’t have anything to take the edge off like I used to.”
In order to deal with his new football lifestyle, the former University of Calgary Dino turned to sport psychology as a way to stay focused during the extended time on the bench.
“I started working on positive self-talk, as well as putting myself in difficult situations during practice to stay mentally tough,” said Doll. “I would do conditioning, then go right into doing a snap, just to challenge myself.”
Spoiler alert, it worked. Doll helped Ottawa to an upset win in the 104th Grey Cup over the Calgary Stampeders, in which the Redblacks went a perfect 2-for-2 on field goals, and is now headed into his fifth season as a CFL pro.
But it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, Doll’s career as a long snapper actually started thanks to a lesson his father Garrett learned during his three-year career with the Stamps during the mid-1980s.
“While my dad was playing, he saw the life of the long snapper, and was like, ‘wow, I have to figure that out,’” said Doll with a laugh. “So he actually learned how to snap during his time in Calgary.”
Although Garrett never actually had any in-game reps for the Stamps as a long snapper, he was well aware of the doors it could open and was determined to teach his son the ropes.
Add to the equation that the Dolls spent eight years living overseas in China - where there was no organized football at the time - and snapping became second nature to Doll.
“It was like playing pass for us over there,” said Doll. “Instead of going out and running routes, we would just go out and snap."
And it paid off.
“When I came back, I played linebacker, fullback, and I snapped,” explained the 27-year-old. “I was good at it, probably because I learned at such a young age, and it just became my job on every team I was on.”
Doll continued to hone his craft, from youth football to his time with the Dinos, and it led to him being selected in the fourth round of the 2015 CFL draft.
“Part of the reason I continued to stick with it was knowing that it would be my ticket to the next level,” he said. “Even from High School to university level, it was always the card I had up my sleeve to create opportunity.”
Now a Grey Cup champion, with more than 40 career games under his belt, Doll, like every other CFL player, was faced with an unusual set of circumstances because of the cancelled 2020 season.
How has the extended off-season impacted a long snapper? Doll likens it to taking time off in another sport.
“It’s like shooting a basketball,” he said. “You can take a break from picking up a ball, and you can obviously still shoot, but it might feel a little different. But after a bit of practice, it’s, ‘alright, now I have my stroke back.’”
Lions fans will be happy to know that Doll’s training for the hopeful 2021 CFL season, while unique because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been going well.
“I’m just doing what I can with what I have, and taking everything one day at a time,” he said. “I think we have all had to get good at finding bliss in the darkness.”
Part of that bliss for Doll came in the form of a recent contract extension with the B.C. Lions, where he played in all 18 regular-season games during the 2019 campaign.
A major reason for the St. Albert, Alta., native choosing to re-up with the B.C. squad is the team dynamic.
“The locker room there is awesome,” said Doll. “The core group of guys there is really strong, and that played a big factor in my decision to go back and re-sign with B.C. and continue that journey.”
With plans for the 2021 CFL season still up in the air, Doll and CFL fans alike are just hoping there is a journey to be had.
Kellen Forrest is a former University Calgary Dino defensive back and a recent graduate of the Centennial College Sports Journalism grad program. Athletically peaked in high school, but journalistically just getting started.