Q&A with NFL Long Snapper Matt Katula
Matt Katula is known for holding one of the most unique positions in the NFL — Long Snapper. For anyone who doesn’t know, this position is a specialized center used for punts, field goals, and extra point attempts. His job is to snap the ball as quickly and accurately as possible in these plays. Over his professional career, Katula has played for 4 teams – the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, and the Pittsburgh Steelers — and is now retired. He explains what it’s like to stay healthy as a professional NFL athlete.
What is a typical day like for you during the football season – both on and off the field?
Very scripted. For example, I could tell you at the beginning of the year what we were going to do every Wednesday for the entire season. Everyone liked getting into a routine. We knew when meetings would take place, what days we would work out, even what lunch was on Thursdays. And it was a full work day, 7:30 AM- 6:30 PM. In a typical week, Tuesday was our day off. That was the day you spent time with your family and went out into the community.
What do you do to stay healthy during the season?
When staying healthy is a huge part of your job, you take it very seriously. You are very conscious of what you put in your body, how hard to push yourself during training, how much rest your body needs to recover. Thankfully, we always had an incredible support staff: multiple strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, a dietician. Whatever you needed to be your best was available to you.
What was the difference between your workout routine during the off-season and the regular season?
In the off-season, the workouts were definitely more frequent and more intense. That was your time to build your body into something that could last for the 17 weeks of the regular season. We were usually on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday schedule during that time, with Wednesday being a rest day. As far as the types of workouts we did, it all depended on your strength and conditioning coach. During my 5 years with the Ravens, we had 3 different coaches with 3 very distinct styles. And depending on the style they preferred (Olympic lifts, dynamic movement, etc.), they brought in new equipment. It was always fun to see what they had in store for us when the team changed strength coaches. During the season, it's way more about maintenance. Keeping your fitness at the level you reached during the off-season — usually a 3x per week program, with extra cardio sprinkled in where necessary.
How did you manage to fuel your body properly with the stress of the season?
We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner available to us 5 days a week. Thankfully, most of the decision-making was taken out of our hands. Every team I played for had a nutritionist, there were some "cheat" items at every meal, but the majority of the items had a purpose. Lean meats, fruits and veggies, and anything else you could think of.
How do you balance life as a professional athlete with spending time with your family?
I have 4 children, ages ranging from 6 years to 6 weeks. During the bulk of my playing career, my wife and I just had two. During the season, it was tough to spend quality time outside of our day off (Tuesday). We were either practicing or playing 6 days a week, which meant our focus was almost exclusively on football. Usually we had a few days off for the bye week, so we’d take a trip to decompress. The off-season is another story. We had time to really be present at home.
Is it tough to get traded/released?
Short answer, yes. It’s always tough to leave comfortable surroundings. But the longer you’re in the NFL, you realize it’s all part of the job. Players get released/traded every day. Here’s a story: My rookie year, I had three great friends on the team, guys I really clicked with. By year 2, all three were gone. Two were released, one signed with a different team. That’s the reality of life in the NFL.
How much did your emphasis on health change from D1 college football to the professional level?
When you make it to the NFL, you realize very quickly that it is a job. You also realize that if you don’t do everything in your power to perform at the highest level possible, someone will come in and take that job from you. So yes, health was a huge part of preparing for success at the professional level. College ball was important, but you were also a student. Your mind was not only focused on football, but on the midterm coming up next week. At the professional level, it’s 100% football, all the time. No time for distractions.
The Matt Katula Foundation helps kids have access to team sports. Why do you think this is such a great outlet for kids?
The Matt Katula Foundation was alive and well for my entire career with the Baltimore Ravens (5 years). We provided grants to local sports teams and organizations. We sponsored an AAU basketball team, we rented lights for a local football organization so they could practice after school, we also worked with area schools to help replace/refurbish gym equipment. It was a great way to give back to the youth of Baltimore. I always looked at my place in the NFL as an opportunity to affect positive change in people’s lives. As for kids and sports? What better way to be active without really realizing you are exercising? I remember running the mile in grade school; I thought I was going to pass out every time! But I could play basketball for 4 hours without getting tired. Before the invention of the smartphone, outside was all we had. I always try to encourage kids to get outside and play.
How do you stay healthy now that you are retired from football?
Even though I am retired, I still love routine. I splurge now and again, but for the most part, I eat pretty clean. I’m 6’6”, and my playing weight throughout the majority of my career was somewhere between 265 and 270. I am currently 250 with a goal of 240. I weight train 4 days a week, and do cardio 5 days. There have been two major changes in my workout routine since retirement. One, I do way more cardio. Probably 75% more. It is a great stress reliever for me. Second, I no longer lift with the intention of bulking up. My workouts now are centered on getting that lean physique. It’s still a work in progress!
Did your body sustain any injuries that have shown up now that you aren’t playing?
Thankfully, because of the position I played, I didn’t take too bad of a beating. I have some shoulder issues now and again, but nothing that has surprised me since retirement. I am able to play basketball, golf, and most importantly, I’m able to play in the yard with my kids. Looking around at some of my friends, they aren’t as fortunate. Football is a rough game.
What prompted you to retire? Do you miss it?
After my 6-week stint with the Vikings, I was again without a team. At that point, as my family was growing, I didn’t really want to wait around for the next opportunity. Unfortunately, the NFL is a young man’s game, and at age 30, I was pretty old in NFL years. I just knew it was my time to hang it up. Do I miss it? There are certainly parts of it I miss. I miss the camaraderie of the locker room. I miss going to work in sweats. I miss the rush when you run onto the field. But honestly, I am content with my decision to stop playing. I have my health. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Born and raised in Brookfield, Wisconsin, Matt Katula attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison from 2000-2004, where he played football and graduated with a degree in Political Science. He was the Long Snapper for 4 teams over his 8-season NFL career. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife and four children.