JACKSON TWP. A college football player’s job on a game day is to execute the game plan and carry out their role the way it’s designed.
Former Jackson standout Michael Buddenberg was a part of a lot of game plans in his four seasons as a long snapper for the Akron Zips, but it’s his execution of his game plan off the field that’s driving him now. Buddenberg, who gradated with a marketing degree from UA in December, had a job lined up before he received his diploma or took the field for his final college game.
He now works in Canton for Employer’s Health, putting his degree to immediate use just days after the Zips lost to Florida Atlantic in the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl.
"I’m proud went to school as good as Akron and to be graduate of Akron," Buddenberg said. "Football not only paved my way through school, but I was able to get a good job and I accepted it, so I wasn’t going to be scrambling for a job. Part of the experience for football was to have future goals lined up."
Buddenberg began interviewing with Employer’s Health in October, right around the time the Zips were starting their push toward a Mid-American Conference East Division title. On the field, he was long snapping for kicks, fulfilling the role he carved out in his career at Akron.
In high school, he played receiver, defensive back and long snapper, but when it came to college football, he know that long snapping would be his best opportunity to play.
"I knew that in college, receivers and cornerbacks have to be quick and I wasn’t the fastest guy on the field, so my niche was long snapping," Buddenberg said. "It’s definitely been a more specialized position and it was fun to learn technical stuff behind that, because I didn’t go to camps in high school that heavily taught special teams stuff."
At Akron, Buddenberg wore No. 88, typically a number assigned to receivers, but spent his time on the field hunched over the football, snapping it back to punters and holders for field goals and extra points.
Playing for the Zips was a chance to stay close to home and also stay connected to his community. Family and friends were able to see him play regularly and in turn, Buddenberg was able to attend a few Jackson games and keep tabs on the program as int underwent the transition from former head coach Beau Balderson to current head coach Tim Budd.
The two programs actually share a few similarities, most notably that both have reached the postseason twice in the past three years. Jackson has made back-to-back playoff appearances, while Akron made two bowl games during that span. For Buddenberg, being part of the first senior class ever to be part of two bowl appearances at Akron is meaningful and even though the second bowl appearance ended with a loss to Florida Atlantic, playing in two bowls and reaching the MAC title game in his senior season is a point of pride.
"I take a lot of pride in being part of team being able to accomplish what we did, playing in two bowls and even the MAC championship game," Buddenberg said. "Seeing team build as far as we’ve come and from being the team we used to be to the team we are now is awesome. There’s still a lot of room for improvement and lot of leaders still on the roster."
Buddenberg noted that while fans may see the improved win totals for the Zips in recent seasons, including the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl win over Utah State in 2015, they may not understand the growth of the program and all that went into moving from a team in the lower half of the conference to one playing for conference championships.
"As far as standings, the only thing people see is record. They don’t see the inside of team or see the camaraderie and unity," Buddenberg said. "When I got there, it was a team, but a lot off individuals also looking to do their own thing and be the best they could be for themselves and not just for the team. The past two years, we were able to grow together more as a unit."
The Potato Bowl win remains a highlight for Buddenberg’s football career, as the 23-21 victory was the Zips’ first bowl win in Division I program history. It’s a memory he’ll take with him as he executes the next part of his game plan, moving to the working world and using his degree to succeed in that chapter of his life. He was able to accomplish what it typically viewed as the goal for any college student-athlete, namely to take the scholarship and chance at an education afforded by sports and turn it into a degree and a job.
The game may have changed, but doing his job well remains the mission.
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