By Ron Vaccaro '04
Jesus "Bubba" Salinas '04 has been involved in some of the most dramatic moments in the last two seasons of Yale football, but unless you are a diehard fan, you probably didn't notice. That's because Salinas, the Eli long snapper, only gets attention when something goes awry, a rare occurrence in the Edinburg, Texas, native's career.
Salinas was a walk-on to Jack Siedlecki's squad back in 2000, after playing both linebacker and long snapper in high school. While there are not many walk-ons who go on to earn three varsity letters by the time they graduate, it should come as no surprise that Salinas has been able to contribute so much to the Bulldogs when you consider his deeply rooted passion for the game and willingness and eagerness to participate in a group setting. The 5-11, 220-pound snapper has been around the game of football for nearly as long as he can remember. The son of a high school coach, Salinas was introduced to the game well before he first played it in junior high, often helping out his father on the sidelines.
Salinas was given the nickname Bubba, which means "little brother", by his parents. The youngest of six children, Salinas always had others around growing up, and thrives in situations where he can make a contribution to the success of a unit as a whole, be it football or the Yale Gospel Choir, which he began singing in last year.
Being a walk-on did not make it harder for Salinas to earn the respect of his teammates as one might expect; to the contrary, the commitment he displayed in those early days of his Yale career, a dedication he continues in the present, quickly endeared Salinas to his peers.
"As freshmen entering the Yale program, everybody is competing," said center Will Conroy '04. "He went through everything else anyone who came in as a recruit did, and worked as hard if not harder then the rest of his classmates."
Salinas was the back-up long snapper in 2000 and also played linebacker in the junior varsity contests. Before his sophomore season, though, Salinas knew that if he wanted to be a regular varsity player, he would have to dedicate himself to the long snapper position, which he did with the same dedication and passion he brings to any other pursuit.
"The long snapper is a unique position in terms of skill and preparation," Siedlecki said. "You play one play at a time and have one opportunity for success."
If a quarterback throws an incomplete on first down, he can come back the next play and get his shot at redemption. With special teams, whether it's the kicker or his snapper, another chance may not come until later in the game, or, worse, the following week.
As reliable as Salinas has been, there have been the infrequent low moments when a snap has gotten away. In the middle of last season, he developed a hitch which affected the accuracy of several snaps. In a position so dependent on mental soundness, getting things back to normal could have been a lengthy process. Those who know him, though, were not surprised that Salinas had things straightened out in due time.
"Each week, this job can be taken away," Salinas said. "All it takes sometimes is one bad snap. But I've been fortunate. I've had some poor games but the coaches have still believed in me and worked with me to get the situation corrected."
Yale's come from behind, last-second victory against Holy Cross in 2001 ranks as Salinas' most memorable Eli experience to date outside of the Harvard games. But Yale's trip to Worcester looked like it would be memorable to Salinas for all the wrong reasons in the game's early stages. The Bulldogs struggled with punting in the first half; on one punt, a poor snap forced punter Nate Lawrie '04 to forego a kick and attempt to run with the ball, only to be tackled at his own nine yard line. Then, midway the fourth quarter Holy Cross blocked a Yale punt, but the Yale defense held in a strong goal-line stand that set up a 93-yard touchdown drive that put the Bulldogs within two points of Holy Cross. The defense held again, and then, with the ball at its own 18 and just 1:36 to play, the Yale offense went to work again.
Salinas was in a bit of a dilemma as the magical drive was transpiring. Watching from the sidelines, his excitement grew with each completed pass, but, each yard gained got the Bulldogs better positioned for a game-winning field goal attempt. Salinas had to reconcile staying focused on his job - getting a good snap if called upon - with a desire to watch the game and cheer on his teammates.
"You try to stay loose, but I'd rather watch the game," Salinas said.
Of course, Salinas found himself on the field to snap for the game-winning 28-yard field goal with just four seconds on the clock.
"I'll always remember that moment," he recalled. "I snapped it to Alvin [Cowan], and seeing Justin Davis' kick sail right through the uprights was a tremendous experience."
It was redemption in the highest form for Salinas and the entire Bulldog team, the fruitful result of hard work and perseverance.
This season marks the quest for another type of redemption for Salinas and his senior teammates. Having experienced three seasons with varying degrees of success in the Yale blue and white, 2003 marks one final chance at an Ivy crown for Salinas and company.
"We are all very excited about this season," Salinas said. "Both athletically and attitude wise, this is the best team I've been on since I've been here. We know what it takes to win." For his part, Salinas knows he has to keep up the reliability that has marked the majority of his Yale career. Even if it means that few will even recognize that one of the Bulldogs' most dedicated athletes is on the field.