Austin Cutting is a recent Air Force graduate who is in camp trying to earn the long snapping job with the Minnesota Vikings.
Cutting, the only long snapper taken in this year’s draft, would be a trailblazer in that he has been cleared to play in the NFL (if he makes a roster) while serving on active duty.
The others from Air Force who have played in the NFL have done so while serving on Reserves.
The Vikings open the preseason Wednesday at New Orleans, pitting Cutting against former Falcon tight end Garrett Griffin, who caught a touchdown in January’s NFC Championship Game and is trying to make the Saints roster.
Cutting similarities between the academy and training camp…
Cutting said he arrives at training camp at 6:30 a.m. and doesn’t finish until he arrives at his hotel around 8 p.m.
“They are definitely long days. That’s something the academy has done a good job of preparing me for. It’s just go-go-go. We’ve got meetings, we’ve got practice. We’ve got more meetings. Just everything. The academy has prepared me well for this. “
But like the academy, where help is always available in the form of tutors, teachers, coaches and teammates, the Vikings are there to support with anything.
“It’s unreal,” Cutting said. “The organization does a great job of having just everything. Everything from the food that we have here to if you need help financially, they have that set up. There’s a security team. It’s just crazy. It’s kind of the whole concept at the Air Force Academy, if you’re failing, you’re doing it to yourself because there’s so much there to help you. The resources are here to help you succeed.”
The academy also helped keep him from gawking at some of his Vikings teammates. He said seeing the occasional 4-star General at Air Force eventually helped him understand that those were “just another person like you and me.” He said the same has been true for his NFL teammates.
A lot of riding on Cutting making the team. There’s the contract (4 years, $2,594,576), but there’s also this unprecedented role within the Air Force that will allow him to play while on active duty. But if he’s not playing, Cutting will serve in the Air force just like any other grad.
How does he think he’ll respond to that pressure when games begin? He’s not worried. He said he overcome nerves in high school, then did the same when snapping in college. He expects the same process now in the NFL.
“Money’s not the issue,” he said. “That’s never been an issue; never will be. It’s just getting adjusted to everyone and learning and just being able to pick up as much as I can. The pressure is just being able to execute that.”
The dedication of Cutting’s parents…
Cutting is the youngest of Ed and Lisa Cutting’s three sons, growing up near Fort Worth, Texas, after moving from California when Austin was young.
Ed was a high school pitcher, while Lisa was a three-sport athlete at NCAA Division III Alma College in Michigan.
Lisa, an elementary school physical education teacher, recalled her surprise when Air Force entered the recruiting picture, as their family didn’t have a military background.
“I didn’t know what to expect or what it would be like,” she said.
She said her heart sank when they said good-bye to Austin at the Air Force prep school. By the next year, she said leaving him at in-processing felt no different than taking any child to college as he immediately met up with friends from the prep school and seemed comfortable at entering basic training.
When they had the chance to see him, they seized it. The couple made it to every game during Austin’s senior year, frequently making the 10-hour drive to Colorado Springs after work on Fridays.
Now, she says she’ll use her son’s story when giving motivational talks to her 550 elementary students.
“I’m going to use that as a teaching example that your dreams can come true,” she said.
Named for a Power Ranger…
Austin’s quiet personality masks what his mother insists is a strong sense of humor. It’s easy to see that sense of humor in the family.
His older brother, Cody, said in his bio while at Southwest Baptist University that he’d describe himself as “Tall, Dark, Handsome,” and in 20 years envisioned himself, “Being a billionaire philanthropist.”
Austin’s name, his mother said, came from actor Austin St. John and was picked because the family like his role as the “red Power Ranger.”
Hesitation on mom’s part…
Lisa hosted a small draft party for Austin that included just a few friends. Overall, he kept quiet about the situation. “I think he didn’t want to make any mistakes,” Lisa Cutting said of the delicate situation.
When the Vikings picked him, Lisa said was in a “daze” and went out and bought Vikings hats.
She also bought a sticker for her car, but she held off on putting that on until Austin officially signed his contract.
“We’re real superstitious all of us,” Lisa said.
More from Air Force coach Troy Calhoun on Cutting…
“He was into the intricacies of (long snapping). If Earvin Johnson didn’t shoot very well and he went to the gym and shot and shot and shot and shot until he was a pretty good 3-point shooter, this guy has done every bit of that as a deep snapper.”
“He has sacrificed, he has committed to doing it as well as he possibly can. And yet at the same time he will fulfill whatever obligations are required and you won’t hear boo from him otherwise.”
More from Vikings special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf...
He talks about the differences and competition between Cutting and veteran Kevin McDermott.
“No two pitchers pitch the same. It’s almost the same thing. That ball can come different ways, slight angles mean a ton, especially for the holder, the kicker. You would be surprised, there is a lot of differences. They are just very small details. Those are the things we kind of keep looking for, and tempo is huge. Building the tempo for the kicker, the holder, the whole things is what makes a good field goal kicker. All the great ones have tempo to the ball.”
It should also be noted that Maalouf, hired in February, has no previous history with McDermott but was instrumental in scouting and drafting Cutting.
Replacements at Air Force
The Falcons have had a strong run at long snapper, with Harrison Elliott manning the spot before Cutting.
The next up will likely be Brock Assel, Jacob Goldberg or Conner Kirkegaard. Kirkegaard, a junior from Poway, Calif., and Goldberg, a sophomore from Plantation, Fla., are listed first and second on the depth chart.
“Those would be the three right now if you had to take a guess,” Troy Calhoun said.
Not entirely without precedent
While Cutting could become the first from Air Force to play in the NFL while on active duty, it has been done at his position in a different branch.
Navy graduate Joe Cardona has played for New England since 2015 while serving on active duty. He was promoted to lieutenant in June.