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Arizona State University is coming off of its gutsiest performance of the season against the reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams and his USC Trojans.
After challenging the Trojans in a 28-42 loss, the brand new looking team is facing the University of California on Saturday, Sept. 30.
ASU long snapper, Slater Zeller is no stranger to walking onto the field of California Memorial Stadium. The graduate student spent five years as a member of the Golden Bears where he earned a degree in legal studies.
Now in his sixth and final year, the 23-year-old is back home where he belongs–in Arizona.
“I grew up an ASU fan, my cousin played at UofA though in Tucson, so I kind of transitioned,” Zeller said. “It took me a little while, it was hard for me to transition to become a UofA fan but to support him I did. Now I’m back an ASU fan, so I’ve been bouncing around.”
Zeller was born and raised in Scottsdale, right off of Shea and only 20 minutes north of Mountain America Stadium, formerly Sun Devil Stadium.
Zeller is appreciative of his time in Berkeley but is fully dedicated to his Arizona State team and ready to take on Cal during Saturday’s showdown. However, he cannot help but feel a little bit sentimental returning to the place that he called home for five years.
“This Saturday will be special,” Zeller said. “It’ll be a fun game, very nostalgic. I think just taking in running out of the tunnel each time, just the little things, taking it in one last time.”
A long snapping star from the outset
While attending Notre Dame Preparatory High School, the four year varsity starting long snapper racked up an incredible amount of accolades and awards.
Zeller was named an Under Armour All-American, First Team All-Arizona and First Team All-Northeast Valley, just to name a few.
As a member of the 2018 Under Armour All-American Game, Zeller received high praise from NFL trainer Jamie Kohl, who called him the “best high school long snapper I have ever seen.”
At Kohl’s camp, Zeller recorded the fastest long snap ever at the high school level at 0.63 seconds and left camp ranked as a five-star long snapper and the top long snapper in the country.
That is pretty incredible for a kid from Scottsdale who has not even turned 18 years of age yet. Especially when considering that Zeller did not start long snapping until late into middle school.
Since his start, Zeller has given plenty of credit to the coaches who have shaped him throughout his career. A lot who have stuck with him from milestone to milestone.
Including coach Ben Bernard of Arizona Elite Long Snapping.
Bernard has worked with dozens of Division I long snappers and a few NFL long snappers as well. He is also credited for getting Zeller started at the position.
“He kind of saw something in me from a young age and that’s kind of how I got into snapping,” Zeller said.
Given his impressive high school resume, Zeller had a choice of offers. He received offers from both Wyoming and Cal, and was also in verbal discussions with several other schools including ASU.
He ultimately decided to sign with the Golden Bears – it was hard to pass up on free education.
Unsurprisingly, with Cal, Zeller only continued to add to the accolades he already had piled up.
After redshirting his freshman year, he was named Cal’s primary long snapper during his redshirt freshman and sophomore season.
In his junior year, he served as a bench player but still participated in all 12 scheduled games, a pattern that continued into his senior season.
Even more impressive, he recorded five tackles while at Cal. Yep, a long snapper with five tackles in four years.
Bringing a posse home to The Valley
At the beginning of the 2022 season, sports writer Phil Steele announced that Zeller was the No. 1 draft eligible long snapper for the 2023 NFL Draft.
Even with all the hype surrounding the incredible long snapper, he was moved into a a back up position during his redshirt junior and senior seasons at Cal.
Instead of opting for the draft following his redshirt senior season, Zeller entered the transfer portal because he was ‘looking for something else.’
That something else ended up being one more year of collegiate football back home at ASU.
“(I) was very thankful for my time (at Cal),” Zeller said. “I loved going to school there… It ended up working out, coming back home, and I’m happy to be here playing my sixth year here.”
Accompanying Zeller on his journey back home came a whole crew of people from Cal.
Charlie Ragle, the assistant head coach and special teams coordinator for ASU, held a position at Cal from 2017 to 2021. Ragle joined the Sun Devils squad for the 2023 season alongside Zeller.
Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin and Chief of Staff Matt Butterfield also joined the Sun Devils from Cal, giving Zeller a lot of habitue comfort.
“It’s really nice coming home (and) being able to be with some familiar faces on (the) staff and on the team,” Zeller said. “(Also) playing in front of my friends and family at home.”
Speaking of teammates, Dario Longhetto, Ben Coleman and DeCarlos Brooks all jumped ship for ASU from Cal as well.
Having coaches in your corner is always valuable, but having peers who are also adjusting to change is an additional advantage.
“It gives you kind of a sense of relief a little bit, a little sense of easiness,” Zeller said. “If you have any questions, they’re in the same boat as you trying to figure it out as well… That gives you a nice little peace of mind.”
With the near roster full of staff and players who have spent time at Cal, it goes without saying that there will be plenty of nostalgia for the Sun Devil team as they hit the road to face Cal on Saturday.
Zeller’s journey is turning out to be a familiar story within the ASU program.
The story goes like this…
An ASU player returns to their hometown with their final years of eligibility to play for the Sun Devils in front of their friends and family.
Although turning out to be common, it is as story that I never tire from because each person’s journey is vastly different from each others.
Different stories, different reasons for returning and different experiences.
For Zeller, the selling point for his return was his excitement to come back to the place where the majority of his family still resides and play for the team he idolized while growing up.
The graduate student has found that he is so popular upon his return that he is often left scrounging for last minute tickets for over a dozen of his biggest fans – aka his family.
“I’d say for the first four home games, I think I had about 12 to 13 tickets each game,” Zeller said. “It was a little bit stressful at times having (my) aunt, uncle (and) cousins out here (and) my girlfriend as well.”
Although stressful at times, the talented long snapper has nothing to worry about given his history of success on the field. He also acknowledges that he would rather scrounge for a 14th ticket than not have anyone to give them out to.
With his friends and family in the stands, Zeller was hoping to make it to a bowl game in his final year, but with ASU’s self-imposed bowl ban, that will not be happening. So instead, he is just planning on taking everything in one last time.
Zeller has aspirations of pursuing a career in the sports management industry after completing his graduate school, but that is only if the whole NFL thing does not pan out.
As a member of the watchlist for the 2023 Patrick Mannelly Long Snapper Award and being the No. 4 and No.1 draft eligible long snapper over the past two years, it does not appear that Zeller will have to fall back on plan B.
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