Taybor Pepper has a specialty. He is a long-snapper extraordinaire. While that may not seem important to some, a quality long-snapper is vital to a winning team. Every snap, whether to set up a field goal or punt, must be perfect, and it must be quick. The best ones are highly prized.
Pepper has made a name for himself nationally.
"Right now, I'm ranked 12th in the nation for the class of 2012. I go to the Rubio long-snapping camps. He has them all across the nation, and he has about five each season."
To say the least, Pepper's snaps are extremely fast. The faster they are, the quicker the kick and the less chance of getting it blocked.
"I don't know about my field goal snaps. They're quick, and they should be since those are the easiest. My punt time is about 0.75 seconds. In the middle 7 range, never above 0.8. I'm very consistent with them. The top-ranked time would be around 0.7 flat or probably dipping down into the high 0.6's."
Illinois has offered only one scholarship to a long-snapper out of high school, Kyle Knezetic, who graduated in 2007. While the UI has sent a number of long-snappers to the pros, most either arrived as walkons or played other positions. In most cases, colleges try to preserve scholarships for position players despite the importance of the position.
"The recruiting process for long-snappers is really developing in the last five years. They're starting to offer more long-snappers. Even if they don't right off the bat, they have them walk on and earn the position through elimination. The winner gets the scholarship. Most schools are telling me that, but some schools are offering different long-snappers."
Not surprisingly, Pepper does not yet have a scholarship offer. But he is making the rounds to secure a college position.
"I've been on a couple visits so far. This is my third time at Illinois. I've also been to Tennessee, Michigan State, Indiana and Ball State. I plan more visits, maybe Iowa, maybe Purdue. Big 10 schools mostly because my dad used to play here at Illinois in 1989 and 1990."
Cam Pepper was an offensive lineman at Illinois. The son is nearly as tall but not as wide as his dad. He is around 6'-4" and 175 pounds. The elder Pepper is presently commuting from their home in Saline, Michigan, to his job in Illinois.
"My dad is actually working in Bloomington at the U.S. Cellular Arena, but we're living up in Michigan. Usually, on Thursdays he drives back and then goes back down to Bloomington on Sundays. He's living with my grandparents."
His mother is from Urbana, and she returns home twice yearly for a "One-Week Boutique," consignment sales of children's clothing. With the sale occurring the same week as Pepper's visit to Illini practices, he was able to watch more than one. He is developing a quality relationship with UI coaches.
"Illinois is great. Coaches (Keith) Gilmore and (Ron) West and the others are all really good coaches. Those are the ones I've talked to the most."
What is he looking for in a school?
"A good Communications department. Facilities are big, and how the coaches interact with the players."
The Pepper family lived in Champaign-Urbana six years when Cam had a job locally. They then lived in Oklahoma for 8 years before moving to Michigan. The Pepper family may move back to Illinois, but they want their son to graduate from a quality high school in Saline.
"Our team is doing pretty well. We were 6 and 3 this last season, and we have a good class coming up. We should do really well this next year."