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Life at Notre Dame has been a snap for Michael Vinson

The Fighting Irish long snapper, a New Trier grad, is a contender for Patrick Mannelly Award.

Michael Vinson, a rising redshirt junior, beat out a scholarship player to become Notre Dame’s starting long snapper.
Michael Vinson, a rising redshirt junior, beat out a scholarship player to become Notre Dame’s starting long snapper.
Brian Utesch/AP

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Michael Vinson, it seems, collects nicknames as easily as he does raves from his coaches.

Back in his New Trier days, the long snapper was known as “Vinny” or “The Godfather.” Since arriving at Notre Dame, Vinson has come to be known simply as “Milk.”

The meaning behind that is twofold.

“One, he is kind of pasty white — got to be honest,” said Nolan Owen, his personal long-snapping instructor for the last six years. “And two, he has a massive obsession over milk. He loves drinking milk.”

That’s one way Vinson has been able to build up his 6-2, 226-pound frame to the point where he has become an indispensable part of the Fighting Irish special-teams units. Brought in as a preferred walk-on in 2018, Vinson surprised plenty within the program by willing his way to become the worthy successor to John Shannon.

“Michael is one of the hardest-working football players I’ve ever been around in my entire career,” said Brian Polian, Notre Dame’s assistant head coach and special-teams coordinator. “We invited Michael into the program as a freshman because we felt he had potential to be the backup. He could get us out of a game if we had to.”

And then Vinson, day by day, brick by brick, built his stature to the point where he pushed his way past a slew of competitors.

“Over the course of two years, he worked so diligently and so hard — off to the side, on his own,” Polian said, “and he worked so hard at trying to get stronger and to be athletic enough to function on the coverage units.”

By last year’s Rose Bowl, Polian noted, Vinson was “down there trying to cover a punt” against Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith of Alabama.

“I can’t express how proud I am that we brought a scholarship freshman in, and Michael beat him out, fair and square,” Polian said. “That’s all we can promise is that, ‘Hey, Michael, you’ll get the chance to compete.’ Sure enough, he won the job and he won it cleanly.”

A rising redshirt junior, Vinson enters next fall as one of the early favorites to win the Patrick Mannelly Award as the nation’s top collegiate long snapper. If he succeeds, he would join Shannon, the ex-Loyola standout who won the inaugural honor in 2019.

With Vinson, it goes beyond the lightning-quick snaps and the impeccable accuracy. It even goes beyond the blocking and coverage ability that make him a legitimate NFL prospect, according to Owen, the former NIU long snapper whose instructional academy recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

“He’s a leader,” Owen said. “That’s the best way to explain it.”

From the moment Vinson started coming around as a New Trier sophomore, Owen could see the way his other snappers gravitated to him. Group sessions always seemed to go better with Vinson in the mix.

“He works extremely hard and he doesn’t complain,” Owen said. “He’s not just a grinder but he’s the fun guy. He’s a guy that laughs and jokes around while he’s grinding. He pushed everybody and got everybody to enjoy what they were doing.”

Three days a week for up to five total hours of specialized training, Vinson never seemed to have a bad session when he walked into the Nolan’s Long Snapping facility in St. Charles.

“It’s amazing,” Owen said. “I think he loves the sport more than I do. That kid, he really, really loves it. If I could have him back again for every session with our high schoolers, I would. He is that much of a leader.”

It should surprise no one if Vinson, even as a specialist, is voted a team captain at Notre Dame next fall.

“His teammates adore him,” Polian said. “He’s a joy to be around. He loves Notre Dame. His family loves Notre Dame. He makes the mood in any room he walks into brighter.”

Got Milk? The Irish are sure glad they do.