CHARLESTON — On the Thursday before the season opener against Arkansas, Stephen Elmore was called into Eastern Illinois special teams coach Alvah Hansbro's office. EIU punter Nick Bruno was sitting there, too.
Throughout camp, Elmore battled with Bryce Coulson for the starting long snapper spot that was left vacant when A.J. Hantak graduated. Elmore is a freshman from Belleville East, whereas Coulson had some college experience already after playing at Pima Community College last season.
Coulson wound up winning the job and was listed as the long snapper going into the season-opener against Arkansas. However, an eligibility issue came up and that's when Elmore was called into coach Hansbro's office. It was to let him know he was going to be the long snapper for the first game of the season.
Elmore admitted he was a bit nervous as he got ready for his first collegiate long snap, which also happened to take place in an SEC stadium.
"My mom and my dad were there and I talked to them before the game and going into that first snap, I was calm, and then a timeout happened," Elmore said. "But I had a great game and I am thankful to my teammates for keeping me calm."
Elmore was long snapping for the Illinois State game last week and will be snapping again on Saturday for the home opener at 6 p.m. against Indiana State.
Even though Elmore lost the battle to Coulson, he stayed positive and knew he had to be ready just in case he was needed at the last moment, which is what basically happened.
"It was a very close battle. I knew that I just had to stay positive and I am confident in my talents, so I knew I would get my shot eventually," Elmore said.
EIU coach Kim Dameron said Elmore did a good job stepping in on short notice.
"He came in as the second snapper in camp and I always like carrying two, and then we had some academic issues with Coulson and the NCAA — and hopefully someday that will be worked out — but as of right now it hasn't
Belleville, Elmore's hometown, is in the St. Louis area, as is Fenton, Mo., which is where A.J. Hantak, EIU's long snapper the last four seasons, is from. Elmore actually knew Hantak because they both ended up having the same long snapping coach — David Brader. Hantak actually helped Elmore land at EIU by getting him in touch with the coaching staff and the staff made a good impression on Elmore.
"What sold me (on EIU), I was going to walk on wherever I went and that's mostly how it goes with long snappers," Elmore said. "The reason I came here, (assistant) coach (Ethan) Hudson drove down to my high school and said they want me to come here. Instead of emailing, he actually took the time to come down here to tell me he wanted me to snap for them."
Dameron said Hantak was a solid long snapper and he left quite the hole to fill.
"A.J., I had him for four years and I can't remember a bad snap. (Elmore) has a long way to go to live up to A.J. but has shown that he has the ability to do it," Dameron said. "He has the temperament for it so I couldn't be happier for the two-game stretch that we've had."
Hantak is still around, too. He's a graduate assistant at EIU and is working with Matt Wright, EIU's Director of Football Operations. Elmore said he still gets tips now and then from Hantak.
"He does tweaks here and there. He walks up to me and helps me fix my alignment or something. He also helps with keeping me mentally prepared for the next game," Elmore said. "I feel like I've been doing pretty well. There were big shoes to fill with A.J. but I feel I am going to continue on and do well. I love my time at Eastern and I am glad I get the opportunity to start for them and hopefully I get the opportunity for years to come."