Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Can the Center Move the Ball Before the Snap in Youth Football?

What Can You Do Prior to the Snap on Youth Football Plays?

Many youth football coaches don’t really know the leeway their centers are allowed before the snap. Unfortunately sometimes the referees don’t seem to know either. I will never forget a Division Championship game we had a few years back. Before the game started the White Hat came over to me and told me that the ball could not be moved prior to the snap and that if our center did so, it was going to result in a 5 yard delay of game penalty. We operate under NFHS High School rules as our base, as do 48 other states.

While I certainly appreciated him letting me know prior to the game starting that this is the way he was going to call the game, I knew he was wrong. Obviously someone had gotten in his ear prior to the game, but him being proactive was very professional and that’s probably why I didn’t try to convince him he was wrong. In most of these cases, it’s best to just smile, adapt and adjust and that’s just what I did. I always tell my coaches and players to respect the referee even if he makes a mistake; I followed that theme in dealing with the White Hat AND communicating to our center why we were going to accommodate the referee and make the change. But since we are a short shotgun team, it did cause a few problems for us, that day. Unfortunately our center got a bit flustered when we instructed him he was going to make this change just 10 minutes before the big game.

I’m not sure how many of those mistakes were mental rather than physical because of the last minute change. Our center was used to rotating the ball to find the laces and then he would slightly tilt the ball upwards at about a 30 degree angle. Of course in this game, he was unable to do what he had done in each of the previous 10 games that season. We had a short snap in this game in contrast to just 6 total in the previous 10 games combined. While we never lost the ball on the bad snap, we did get a -2 yard play on a 2nd and 8 that helped end a drive. We were also called once for delay of game when our center tilted the ball like he normally does on a 2nd and 5. Were these two football plays the difference in the game? Of course not, we made plenty of execution errors that would have turned a 20-12 loss into a 28-8 win, but they didn’t help, they were momentum killers.

Unfortunately I didn’t have my trusty rule book handy to help work myself out of this jam and help the referee make the correct call. There are several pertinent rules when it comes to the snap.

Thanks to Coach Doug for these relevant rule section citations:

ART. 2 . . . The snapper may lift the ball for lateral rotation but may not rotate end-for-end or change the location or fail to keep the long axis of the ball at right angles to the line of scrimmage.

ART. 3 . . . Following the ready-for-play and after touching the ball, the snapper
shall not:
a. Remove both hands from the ball.
b. Make any movement that simulates a snap.
c. Fail to clearly pause before the snap.
d. Following adjustment, lift or move the ball other than in a legal snap.

As you can see, the center DOES have the right to adjust the ball as long as his hands stay on the ball. As long as the ball is aligned perpendicular to the line of scrimmage and the ball isn’t rotated end for end, the ball can be both rotated AND tilted. The center is also required to pause after he makes his adjustments, there are no “quick snaps” trying to catch the other team off guard type movements allowed.

Youth football referees take too much flack and too many youth coaches set a poor example when dealing with referees. While it rarely if ever makes sense to confront an official during a game with your rulebook in hand, I’ve added this rule to the sheet of rules I now carry in my pocket to every game. If faced with this same dilemma again prior to another game, I will be ready to respectfully help the referee make the correct call. Rarely does one football play truly decide a game, but why put yourself in that situation if you don’t have to? It’s all part of coaching youth football.

 Copyright 2010 Cisar Management, all rights reserved. This article may be republished but only if this paragraph and link are included. //winningyouthfootball.com

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  1. Dave

    Excellent piece! My 12 year old son plays center and has experienced similar circumstances. Last week the ref notified our coach about how any further “movement” of the ball would result in a five yard penalty and the coach subsequently relayed the info to my son. Nice to get the upfront warning, but i asked my son how much adjustment he was making prior to the snap and he said all he was doing was rotating the ball to get the laces positioned…nothing more. Sounds like he was well within the rules unless the refs saw something else.

  2. Tom K

    Dave, My 12 year old son in a CENTER. THis upcoming season will be our 1st RUNNING the S’Wing. We ran a PISTOL much of last year, where he did a fine job even in snow, rain and sleet. I have my son practicing a new snapping method that I saw on DIRECT SNAP FOOTBALL. The Ball comes back low & slow with the lace to the same side as the ball is spotted. BUT I am questioning if it is legal. The front of the ball is tilted forward, 45 degrees, the ball is gripped at the opposite end with the index finger going down the seam.

    1. davecisar


      Yes I have seen it- most refer to it as the Jock Sutherlin snap. It is legal and is used by some. I’m not a big fan of it, but my motto is if it works for you and is legal, more power to you. I’m very happy with the way we teach it. Last year my 5-6 grade team had just 2 bad snaps by our starting Center- just 1 ended up costing us a tournover- he snapped to the wrong player.


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