USCHerd, a USC fan site celebrating the USC Fan.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Catching Up with Mark Raab, Starting LongSnapper '90-'91.

True Grit
The Herdblog Interview with Mark Raab

by Mojack

At the Herdblog, we’ve had some great opportunities to get to know some players that aren’t necessarily in the spotlight as much as other Trojan heroes. The walk-ons who have won scholarships, the back-up QBs who have great stories to tell about their moments of glory as they were called to step in and take over the reins of the starting QB, and some oldtimers who bring a different perspective to the internet age of recruiting and of publicity. We’ve never interviewed a walk-on long snapper though who was the John Wayne Scholarship recipient though. That would be Mark Raab, a former walk-on who won a scholarship and was the long snapper in one of USC’s most infamous games, the 1990 shootout between USC and UCLA at the Rose Bowl. As Mark remembers later in the interview, “Ah yes, ... the 1990 shootout. You know, as the long-snapper I take extra pride and joy in that game. Sure, there were like 6 TD's in the 4th Qtr. and it was an icon-forming game for Marinovich and Maddox ... but, the difference in the game? ... a FG! ... 45-42. So, I played an integral part in that victory - along with Quin Rodriguez and Pat O'Hara ... it's what makes football the greatest team sport ever created.”

What a story Mark has not only about being a part of that game, but being a Trojan and his efforts to become a scholarship player in a storied football program. Ray Weber, former TCSD President, helped set up this interview with Mark, and Ray said about Mark, “The Trojan Club of San Diego always hope to have participation at our Events from past USC Athletes and when past USC football players come forward, it's really tremendous! Duane Bickett has given so very much to our Club for almost 10 years now, especially since his retirement from the NFL. Ralph Pucci, Joe Palen, Hank Slade and Ron Fletcher , just to name a few others are current regulars at our Events too! It was a real pleasure to get to know past San Diegan, Mark Raab, a long snapper, from those teams in the early 90's (Larry Smith era). Mark attended many of our Events and then a job transfer took him to Texas. He is a real gentleman, a fine representative of USC and always willing to help in a good cause. San Diego's loss was Texas' gain and Mark knows that he's always welcome to come back to any of our Events, at any time! He's a real pro and a credit to the Trojan family and we all miss him and hope for the best for the Raab Family! Fight On Mark.”

The USCHerdblog interview with Mark Raab follows. As Ray Weber said, “Fight On, Mark!” We appreciate your time and effort in giving us this look into your USC experience.

You prepped at Helix High School in San Diego. What was your high school experience like. We know you walked on at USC. Did you have other scholarship offers at other schools and was USC just a dream for you? Skipping ahead a few years, what was it like to be an alumni of the school that also produced Alex Smith and Reggie Bush? And on a lighter note, do you have any real estate connections in the San Diego area?

As a high school player, oddly enough I was the biggest guy on my team - at 6'2" 225 ... so, I played Center, Off. Tackle, and Def. End. I was recruited by smaller schools across the country, mostly for being an athlete with excellent grades (Ivy league schools and the like). I knew I didn't want to stay in San Diego for college, so when I went and visited USC for the 1st time - that did it for me ... Bovard auditorium, Tommy Trojan, Heritage Hall, that whole collegiate feel. That sealed it.

As a Helix alum, I actually watched Reggie (and Alex) play ... My niece went to rival Monte Vista, and I recall sitting on the Monte Vista side of the stands, talking to my buddy (also a Helix and 'SC alum) and standing up and shouting in amazement at Reggie's exploits (the Monte Vista folks didn't care too much for that - plus, I had the friendly wagers going with my niece)- and this was BEFORE he became a Trojan. I'd never seen anything like what he was doing on the football field - vision, speed, balance, quickness, ... well, we all know now. [Good luck on that front - real estate; s
heesh, I never should've sold my house there when I moved here.]

Can you do a brief recap of your career for us?

'87 - '91 ... starting long snapper in '90 and '91. Graduated in '91 and was the John Wayne Memorial Scholarship recipient. Played a couple games for the Redskins in '92 and '93. Then, filled in for a game for the Chargers in '98.

You played alongside some of the players we've done past Herdblog interviews with specifically Shane Foley and fullback Tim Lavin. Do you have any stories on them that they didn't share with us? Who were some of your other teammates? Do you still keep in touch and involved in each other's lives?

No real stories beyond what they shared ... I do vividly remember the first time Lavin and I got to play - in the '89 season blowout of Utah State. I thought I was sky high getting to play - but, I thought Lavin was going to give himself an aneurysm. It was awesome.

I still run into former teammates at games or random places. Living in Texas doesn't afford me the frequency as Southern California; but, there are several former teammates in the Dallas area (Keith Davis, Bruce Luizzi, Michael Williams). Other teammates were Rodney Peete (couldn't echo Lavin's sentiments more - a true class act!!!), Don Gibson (great guy - not fun having to go against him in practice every day for 3, 4 years ...), Dan Owens, Tim Ryan, Dave Cadigan, Scott Galbraith, Leroy Holt, Steve Webster (another Helix alum), Curtis Conway, Tony Boselli, Willie McGinest, Mark Carrier (another top notch guy), Matt Gee, Pat Muldoon (another walk-on), etc. Then, from my class, ... Pat Harlow, Matt Willig, Junior Seau, Calvin Holmes, Ricky Ervins, Scott Lockwood, Mike Moody, Marvin Pollard, too many to name. And, of course, my kickers, punters, and holder ... Quin Rodriguez, Ron Dale, and Pat O'Hara.

In your email signature, you note that you qualified yourself as a "walk on." Can you share what that experience is like to walk onto a major Division 1 school especially a USC which has such a tradition of football greatness. Did you assume you'd make the team, hope to make the team, and when you we
re awarded a scholarship what was that feeling like?

It was a strange experience, I'll tell you that much. It seems like I knew more about college football BEFORE high school, then, when you're in high school, you get all caught up in your own world. So, heading into college, I was extremely unaware and naive of the whole experience. And, yes, I was very nervous and excited about 'trying out' in hopes of making the team. I remember Day 1 ... checking into Fluor Tower, then heading to our first meeting, Mike Moody and another player ... both 6' 6", 300+ ... and saying "are you guys Seniors ? ... nope. Freshman." Oh, great! ...

The adrenaline (and using fear as a motivator - fear of failure, fear of getting annihilated, etc.) definitely got me through the first Fall Camp.

However, I distinctly remember, after an especially tough practice in September, Marcus Cotton saying to me "Man, ... there's no way in Hell I'd put up with all this bullshit if I wasn't on scholarship. I don't know how you do it man" ...I just shrugged it off. I didn't know any differently. I hadn't been coddled or ever given superstar treatment; so I didn't know.

One of the greatest things about football is the camaraderie - ... the antagonism, field fights, laughing at each other, etc. Brandon Bowlin - being a legit comedian, always had us bustin up ... and almost always at the expense of another teammate. If you show weakness or sensitivity - that just brought you more crap. It was great. Scott Galbraith was a big talker and often right in the middle of the 'smack' talk and banter. He and I used to go at it quite a bit - and it only motivated me more. He would tell me "you're never gonna see the field walk-on, you should just quit." I would banter back about him being a waste of talent and how he wished he was as smart as me. All in good teammate ridicule fun.

He played for the Cowboys when I was with the Redskins, and I've bumped into him at the airport or at a game, ... and it's nothin but hugs and well wishes and all that. You can't replace those kinds of battle bonds. The brotherhood so to speak. There's nothing else like it.

Being awarded the scholarship was definitely one of my happiest and most proud moments of my life - the epitome of "earning" something you put everything you had into
- the blood, sweat, tears and toil. And one of the coolest parts of getting the scholarship was how fired up my teammates were too ... Pat Harlow, Matt Gee, James Wilson, Raoul Spears, my fellow walkons - Tim Lavin, Marc Preston, ... it was awesome.

You played for Larry Smith. What did you like and dislike about his coaching style? He made some famous quotes, to paraphrase, that "USC isn't what it used to be, and players don't come to the school just because of its traditions anymore." If I remember correctly, Smith was a very good game coach, but he didn't like to recruit or didn't do well recruiting and that was his downfall. Can you elaborate on Coach Smith?

Coach Smith was a disciplinarian (at least initially). I didn't have any issue with that, because I'd never had a "player's coach" - like Robinson or PC. I think he accomplished a majority of what was expected of him - run a tight ship and field a competitive squad. It just didn't have that 'SC aura.

My personal opinion was that Coach Smith was a master coach of the underdog. The 'hunker down', work harder, and beat the odds of everyone saying what you CAN'T do (look at the first few years, the 'expectations' were low, and we 'over-achieved' by some). But, that success was so immediate (the '88 squad, #2, and undefeated until the final regular season game, ... with the best defense in the country). The problems mounted when he lost control of the primadonnas. From '89 and into '90, he allowed a couple star players to not have to go through the regimen like the rest ... and that seemed fine when the W's were piling up ... but, when a couple losses hit ... and he tried to 'reel them back in' to the rigidity - it backfired and got all messed up. And some divisiveness set in.(see #7 for more on this).

A lot of Trojan fans and Herdmembers enjoy the open practices of the Pete Carroll tenure. Pete encourages fan interaction with the players and coaches, and Pete has especially embraced the Herd. What were Smith's practices like, and how did Larry Smith interact with Trojan fans in general?

Pete is the King!!! ... He's all tempo and enthusiasm; and it's him being him ...

Our practices were just your basic intense practices, with ebbs and flows to the tempo, very structured - with 'periods' and a horn blowing every few minutes signaling the next task.

I didn't really observe Coach Smith's interactions. He was a nice guy with the greatest intentions. He wasn't all that personable - which I don't think is uncommon, especially from his coaching breeding ground - the MidWest ... with the likes of Bo and Woody being the revered legends; staunch; disciplined; singularly focused, etc.

I do know that PC has a remarkable ability to give you that brief moment, where he makes you feel like there's nobody else around, and it's all about your question, photo op, autograph, whatever, ... as he works the crowds. [Specifically, I took my sons to the Huddle, and when the mob crowd ambush is on, PC gives each person that brief uninterrupted moment, with direct eye contact, and all that ... making sure you got what you came for ... then, reasonably, move on to the next. It's amazing to watch.]

You were on a team that won the Rose Bowl in 1989, lost the John Hancock Bowl to Michigan State in 1990, and then went 3-8 with that bad 1991 team. Jeff Kopp just shared with us how he was a freshman in 1991, and here he thinks he's going to go to Rose Bowls every year to play Michigan, and that first game of 1991 USC lost to Memphis State. What was it like to go from winning the Rose Bowl to losing in the John Hancock Bowl to finally going 3-8 your senior season?

Talk about a let down. That season was surreal - we couldn't believe it as we went through; it didn't seem possible. But, I'll tell everybody, the ''91 squad was no less talented than any of the previous ... '91 had Boselli, McGinest, Conway, etc. ... that stacks up well against Peete, Seau, Carrier and the earlier years ('87, '88). The 1 element that separated those teams - was TEAM. The ' 91 team became very individualistic, the previous squads were focused on the goals, as a team, regardless of who accomplished what ... some of it may have been coaching, but, some of it definitely had to do with the players - and leadership. Rodney, Dan Owens, Tim Ryan, and Carrier were the leaders and set the tempo and expectations by basically being selfless and great teammates. The later squads, we were just as 'bonded' by cause (football causes you to 'stick together' or quit), but not so much ON THE FIELD (ironic, you'd think on the field would display the trust and bond and comraderie more than OFF, but that wasn't the case in '91). It was extremely frustrating to say the least (all those cliches about 'talent', 'hard work', 'commitment', etc.).

We know that today there is far more media saturation, and that Carson, Matt and Reggie were mega superstars compared to Rodney Peete's Heisman campaign. What is the difference to you about today's college athlete and the media? And how big do you think a guy like Rodney Peete or Marinovich with that great 1990 UCLA game would be in the internet age?

It's pretty cool how huge these guys can become through the media and internet now ...It's the best time of your life, to be able to capitalize on a mega scale ... makes it celebrity!

Oh man, Rodney Peete would've been Matt and Reggie combined! ...

Think about his main 'national' competitors were Troy Aikman (who got his share of attention) and Barry Sanders (who is 'quiet' person). Rodney's personality and field exploits, plus the success of the team ... WHOA! - he would've been a MEGA Star! ... not like he wasn't already BMOC.

You've seen the Trojans go on major streaks against their rivals the last few years, the 2006 UCLA game doesn't need to be included in this conversation. What was it like to play against UCLA and Notre Dame? You lost all your games to Notre Dame. What did that feel like? What does it feel like now as a fan as USC is on a five game winning streak against Notre Dame? And conversely, what was the 1990 game like between USC-UCLA? The Marinovich-Morton shootout? What a classic.

Man ... there's nothing like that 1st time walking through the tunnel for either of those games ... '87 ... vs. ugla for the Pac-10 championship. The capacity crowd (95K then), the electricity in the air ... I remember it like it was last year - not 20 years ago! And, going 3-1-1 against them wasn't too shabby either (loved the local bragging rights). As for ND ... sheesh ... what can you say ... those games were all about National acclaim, nat'l prominence, kings of college football, and historical and legendary stature.

Not to mention we got hosed in 3 of those 5 games ... decided by 4 pts each! ...28-24, 10-6, and 24-20 ... UGH!!!

28-24 ... 1989 ... South Bend ... we're in control ... momentum changer to start the 2nd half: we got a HORRIFIC call/spot on a 3rd down conversion, momentum changes, we lose.

10-6 ... the 5-yard line ... 4 straight incompletions ... DAMN!

24-20 ... South Bend ... game winding down, onside kick ... everyone scrambling ... refs don't know who or where the ball is ...
... Marvin Pollard comes running out of the pile with it - towards our sideline ... we're stoked! ...
"ND Ball!" ... "WTF!!!" ...
So, yeah ... PAINFUL.

Fortunately, with the PC era dominance ... it makes it all the sweeter ... And being there (my 1st trip to ND since playing) for "4th and 9" - WOW!!!

Ah yes, ... the 1990 shootout. You know, as the long-snapper I take extra pride and joy in that game. Sure, there were like 6 TD's in the 4th Qtr. and it was an icon-forming game for Marinovich and Maddox ... but, the difference in the game? ... a FG! ... 45-42.

So, I played an integral part in that victory - along with Quin Rodriguez and Pat O'Hara ... it's what makes football the greatest team sport ever created. I can't think of anything individualistic in football - a game-winning kick requires a good snap and hold, the game-winning pass, requires the catch, the TD run - the blocks ... a sack, fumble, or INT ... your D teammates causing disruption to free you up. It's awesome!

I love it when they play that game back on ESPN Classic ... my kids get a kick out of it too ... they bleed Cardinal & Gold obviously.

We haven't interviewed a long snapper yet. Give us some inside knowledge of that position. Did you snap for field goals and punts or just punts? What's the different in technique, the snap, the blocks for field goals compared to punts? What's the pressure like? Did you ever make any bad snaps in crucial situations? And if so, what did your teammates or coaches say, and how did you feel about that error? And did you snap in any last minute situations? What was that pressure like?

Both punts and FG's ... technique-wise, the difference is w/ FG's it's just an upper body quick snap - you don't want to get your legs and back into it - it's too risky and unnecessary for the holder. The punt snap - that's a swift motion of legs, back, and follow-through.

And the only reason I ever started snapping was way back in Pop Warner - as a means to get to be on Punt coverage - to try for that dream/fantasy kill shot or fumble recovery ... and the snapping part just came naturally to me.

As for the pressure, ... it's just like a kicker: self-imposed! Because you know you're not afforded the luxury of making a mistake like regular position players. I was fortunate to only have had 1 bad snap during a game in my career - it happened to be the final game too.

But, I did screw up in practice. In fact, my soph year during The Huddle at the Coli ...I was competing for the starting job ... 1st snap - flawless (crisp, tight spiral, thigh-high) ... virtually unnoticed (a great thing). Second snap ... different story. Ball at the 35 ... landed at the 5 yard line (little too much adrenaline; and holding it too long) ...Coach Smith yells:: "DAMMIT RAAB! ... You get your shot and you're pissin up a rope!!!" ... not fun. Of course, my teammates affectionately nicknamed me 'Launch Pad' ... which lasted a while.

As for that 1 bad snap in a game ... '91, Senior year, final game, ugla ... I'm jacked! - sky high of all the emotion of final game, etc. 1st snap ... I knew it was trouble as I released it ... it sailed 2.5 to 3 feet above Ron Dale's head ... Some how, some way, he climbs the ladder, and snatches it with his fingertips - and gets it off ... I could hear the 95,000 GASP (usually you don't hear the crowd, everything just becomes a blur for a second). As I come off the sideline, all Coach Smith said was "Ron saved your ass ... now CALM DOWN! and do what you're supposed to do!" Overall though, to deal with the pressure, I just use fear as the great motivator - fear of failure ... to lock in to the focus needed to block everything else out and do your job.

What did you have to do to become the John Wayne Scholarship recipient? Can you give us a little background on that? Too bad (or maybe its a good thing) that it's a written interview or I could ask you to do your John Wayne impersonation for us.

The John Wayne scholarship goes to the graduating senior with the highest GPA - it's something I coveted from my freshman year; something I felt I had total control over. I used the scholarship to pay for my MBA at SDSU. {I used to have an impersonation ... but that's way outdated now.}

What did you do after you graduated from USC? What are you doing now? Did you have any thoughts of a career in football? Playing? Coaching?

After graduation I worked for Ace Parking in San Diego - running various hotel parking operations. I did that for 5 years. While doing that, I did pursue opportunities to snap in the NFL. I yo-yo'd back and forth with the Redskins in '92 and '93 ... playing in the final 2 regular season games of '93. Coaching changes quickly changed all that. Then, in '98, still in San Diego, ... the late Wayne Sevier - who was my special teams coach with the Redskins - was with the Chargers when their long snapper - David Binn - hurt his shoulder; and I played against the Seahawks. All those experiences were surreal ... snapping for Darren Bennett, John Carney, the late Reggie Roby, etc. - and hanging out with Charles Mann and other great players.

My focus all along was the 'corporate' life ... being a "businessman". In hindsight, I really feel like I missed my calling - Coaching. I'm still ridiculously passionate about football, and sports in general, and helping kids develop their skills. I've done some charitable work coaching snappers; and now coach my youngest son in flag football; and, it's only served to stoke the fire to want to coach. However, responsibilities got my attention early on, and I was never prepared to 'start from scratch' ... but who knows.

For the past 10 years, I've been with AT&T (Pacific Bell, SBC, now AT&T). I started in San Diego, and relocated for work to Northern Cal, then back to San Diego, and now Texas ... yes, Texas. I've been in the North Dallas area for almost 3 years now ...

We've heard that you are living in Dallas now? What's it like to be a Trojan in Longhorn country? How uncomfortable has it been after January 4th, 2006?

Well ... FORTUNATELY ... I moved here in the Fall of '04 ... already well into 'the streak' ... so, Trojan football had plenty of respect. Then, going undefeated in '04 and demolishing OU at the Orange Bowl got rave reviews from Longhorn fans. But, yes, ... after that game, it was not fun. The folks here believe football was born, and dies, in Texas - and some of the South (they do respect the SEC); but, that's it! It's sad to hear them talk talk talk ... I definitely hold my own in the battle of boasting about great football; but, it's an ongoing debate about teams. I absolutely love the sports-mania here though ... everyone is passionate about something; whether it's basketball, baseball, hockey, volleyball, gymnastics, swimming ... it's all huge in Texas - with Football being King! (as it should be ... LOL) ...

Finally, can you sum up your feelings about your time at USC, about being a part of Trojan football history, and of your feelings about the Trojan family?

"FIGHT ON!" That's the best way to describe it ... USC and the Trojan family is very real and a huge part of my life, who I am, "how I roll", etc.

It's a bond that stands the test of time - and creates instant comraderie where-ever I go - that's what I love most ... you run into another Trojan outside of SoCal ... and you 'just know' - you have that common thread of knowing what it's all about - that you walked the same paths, ate the same food, shared the same joys and pains (regardless of era), Tommy Trojan, the whole thing!

And, the older I get, the more meaningful it grows - because as life evolves and things constantly change around you, there are very few constants - family and lifelong friends; thus, the Trojan Family is a constant.

Again, ... FIGHT ON!!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Best college football game ever played was with USC.


Hook em Horns