Engineering an NFL career
Ohio State alum Jake McQuaide has one of the world’s most unique occupations. As the starting long-snapper for the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, he’s on the field for every punt, field goal and extra point. Since NFL teams only have one long-snapper on the active roster, he’s one of just 32 people in the U.S. who can claim that job title.
What makes McQuaide even more unique is that he is a proud alumnus of The Ohio State University’s Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering program (2011). It’s probably safe to say he’s the only NFL long-snapper who can run a transonic wind tunnel research project to test dynamic stall on a Blackhawk rotor blade. Now in his fourth season with the Rams, the College of Engineering’s favorite NFL player took some time in between practice reps to chat.
You were the starting long-snapper for the Ohio State Buckeyes for three years. How did you balance the academic rigors of aerospace engineering while playing Big Ten football?
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t tough, but in the end it was all worth it. In terms of balancing, it was a lot of all-nighters and early mornings, and not a lot of free time. But I had a lot of people that supported me. The athletic department does a great job of providing academic support for its athletes. It was helpful to be able get tutoring, to know someone could actually help you with differential equations, for example. There’s not a whole lot of people you can just go ask about that. And my professors were very understanding that my situation wasn’t exactly like everyone else’s. I also had a great group of friends in aeronautical engineering with me, guys I’m still in contact with now.
Any engineering student will know that you won’t get through it on your own. You’ll need classmates to do homework problems with, study for an exam with, or help each other write code, so many things. And that was tough for a guy like me to ask for help, one of my faults I guess. But I learned pretty quickly that if you ask, people are willing to help. Ohio State was a great environment for that.
Did you have a favorite professor or class?
Professor (Jim) Gregory’s Introduction to Engineering class got me hooked. That was the first time I’d been in a class that was truly interesting, diving into questions like why airplanes fly, where thrust comes from… not just equations, but practical applications. I really enjoyed all of my classes with Dr. Gregory and Dr. (Jeffrey) Bons.
When were you first interested in engineering or aerospace?
As a kid I was always intrigued by airplanes, especially fighter jets, thinking how cool it would be to fly or build those. Once I visited my sister at Ohio State, I loved it and just knew I had to come here. Coming out of high school (Cincinnati Elder), I was pretty good at math and physics and had technical outlook on things I guess. So I got into the engineering prerequisite classes and they went well. I still wasn’t sure which engineering degree I would pursue, but I signed up for Dr. Jerry Gregorek’s Intro to Aero class basically on a whim because I’d always been into airplanes. From the very first class, it was so interesting to me and I knew I was in the right place.
Buckeye engineers everywhere will love that your LinkedIn profile lists your previous occupation as summer intern at Ohio State’s Aeronautical and Astronautical Research Laboratories (AARL). What kinds of research did you get to work on that summer of 2010?
Most of my classmates used summer quarter for internships, but our football training camp started midway through summer quarter so I never had the opportunity to apply for corporate internships. I spoke to Professor Gregory about it, and it just so happened that they needed to hire an undergrad research assistant in his lab. It was perfect for me since the schedule allowed me to work there for the first five weeks of summer quarter and then go to camp with the team.
The main research I worked on involved an older transonic wind tunnel that really nobody was using, but it was still in great condition. Dr. Gregory came across an RFP for testing dynamic stall on a Blackhawk helicopter rotor blade. That’s what we worked on that summer. He had me present our ideas to all of the other professors in the AARL and the Gas Turbine Lab. Exciting, but kind of scary! After that, we finished up the experiment design and I went off to camp. A graduate student took over from there and they won the proposal. So overall a success, and a fun learning experience for me to work on a real-world problem affecting a modern aircraft. I am really grateful for that opportunity.
What is your favorite Ohio State football memory or moment?
We were playing Iowa at home in 2009. A trip to the Rose Bowl was on the line, and the game went into overtime. We had a field goal attempt to win it. I got to snap it. Devin Barclay kicked it and made it. A couple months later we went to Pasadena and won the Rose Bowl. As a kid I never even imagined a moment like that. To be a part of the game-winning kick that sent us to the Rose Bowl was really special.
When did you first think the NFL was a possibility?
I guess in high school, but I mostly joked about it, because it’s such a longshot. But once I made the team at Ohio State, I thought “Why not me?” And I really dedicated myself to my craft and getting better every day. My final season at Ohio State was 2010. I got a couple calls from some NFL teams, and worked out for a few. I didn’t get drafted, but that means you get your pick of teams that call after the draft, which ended up being the Rams, Saints, Patriots and Bengals. The Rams situation was definitely my best option. Everything worked out, and now I’m just trying my best to make it last.
Ever think about aerodynamics on that snap back to Rams’ teammate Johnny Hekker?
Not really (laughs), but as a snapper you do need to be mindful of the wind. In a crosswind if you don’t throw a perfect spiral it’s going to push it left or right. And when I’m snapping into the wind, I want to make sure to keep the nose of the ball down so it doesn’t sail on me.
Plans after football? Do they involve engineering?
GE Aviation is based near Cincinnati, where I grew up. If I could work there after I’m done playing, it would be a dream come true, because I am really interested in gas turbine engines. But right now, I’m 100% focused on my job as a long snapper for the St. Louis Rams and helping us win the Super Bowl.
You are very active in the community. What charities or outreach efforts benefit from your spare time?
I’m involved in quite a bit, but two charity efforts I’m especially proud of are Teammates for Kids and Kick Cancer. Teammates for Kids was started by Garth Brooks, and he covers all the administrative overhead, so the athletes’ donations all go directly to kids charities, like hospitals and camps. And then corporate and family sponsors, like the Younkin family, double match those donations. That’s really close to my heart and my wife Abby’s.
And here in St. Louis, Greg (Zuerlein), Johnny (Hekker) and I have partnered with SSM Health Care to launch Kick Cancer. Fans can make a pledge for every one of our field goals and extra points.
We’ve started a video series called Athletics Engineered. Next time you’re in Columbus, maybe we could do a football spiral aerodynamics version?
Absolutely, that would be really cool. Sounds fun.