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In American football and Canadian football, the holder is the player who receives the snap from the long snapper during field goal or extra point attempts made by the placekicker. The holder is set on one knee five yards behind the line-of-scrimmage. Before the play begins he places the hand which is closest to the place kicker on the ground in a location designated by the kickers foot (In high school games, the holder/kicker combo is responsible for a kicking block, which lifts the ball off the turf), with his forward hand ready to receive the snap. After receiving the snap, the holder will place the football on the turf, or block, ideally with the laces facing the uprights and the ball accurately placed where the back hand was initially, then balancing the ball with one or two fingers until the ball is kicked.
The holder, like the placekicker and the long snapper, is protected from intentional contact from the opposing team. The penalty for roughing the holder is 15 yards and an automatic first down.
Compared to other American football positions, the holder is one of the most trivial positions, requiring precision in the receipt of a snap and placement of a ball in short time, but requiring far less physical talent than a skill position and much less bulk or strength than a lineman. Because of this, it is exceptionally rare for a team to preserve a roster spot solely for a placekick holder; most teams will instead use a player who plays another position to double as the holder. One notable exception was Patricia Palinkas, the first female professional football player; Palinkas played holder (and no other position) during her short time as a pro player.
The holder's actual position, on the team's official depth chart, is generally either the punter or the backup quarterback. Some high school football teams will place a wide receiver or running back at the holder position because of their good hands (this is not unheard of at other levels; Steve Tasker, a wide receiver and punt gunner, also played holder at various times in his NFL career, as does his son Luke Tasker, also a wide receiver).
The rationale for having a backup quarterback holding is that the quarterback is accustomed to receiving snaps from center and long snaps from the shotgun formation. He also provides a threat for a fake field goal since the quarterback can throw a pass on such plays. Additionally, in the event of a bad snap and an aborted kick attempt, the holder might have to become the quarterback for the play, so having an actual quarterback helps in that regard. Years ago in the NFL, backup quarterbacks generally held for field goal kicks.
Having the backup quarterback play as the holder has faded out in the NFL, mainly due to a rule in the NFL's collective bargaining agreement that prohibited a team's third-string quarterback from playing except in emergencies (this was repealed in the 2011 CBA, but since that time, most NFL teams have only carried two quarterbacks on the active roster). However, such usage has remained rather common in collegiate football. Many times a quarterback who was a redshirt freshman will serve as the holder his sophomore year. It is also common in other professional leagues such as the Arena Football League (where there is no punting and are thus no punters) or the Canadian Football League, where roster size restrictions generally result in one person serving as both placekicker and punter.
In today's NFL, most teams use their punter as holder. New England Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick explained that punters are generally holders for the reason that punters and kickers usually have more time together to game plan, watch film, and are able to have more reps during practice than a player who has to play another position.
There are a few NFL teams that still use a quarterback as their holders.
New Orleans Saints – The Saints tend to run more fake field goals than any other team, and due to that they generally keep a backup in as their holder (this keeps opposing defenses in more of a zone coverage, and also helps to prevent blocked field goals). Their holder for a period was quarterback Luke McCown, but is now punter Thomas Morstead.
Dallas Cowboys – When Tony Romo was signed by the Dallas Cowboys, he was their backup quarterback, and as the backup quarterback, part of his job was to be the team's holder. Romo was replaced by the punter in 2010, but due to many mishandled snaps, which resulted in missed field goals, Romo returned as the team's official holder. The Cowboys hired a more experienced holder, Brian Moorman, in 2012; Moorman left the team at the end of the season. Throughout the 1990s, starting tight end Jay Novacek was the usual holder on kicks.
Oakland Raiders – The Raiders' Matt Schaub was used as the holder during the 2014 season.
Denver Broncos – The Broncos used to have former starting quarterback Jake Plummer as the holder and continued to do so after he was benched in favor of Jay Cutler. After Plummer retired the Broncos began to use their punter as the holder.
Washington Redskins – Starting quarterback Joe Theismann held for Mark Moseley from the late 1970s until he suffered his career-ending broken leg during a 1985 Monday Night Football game vs. the New York Giants.
During a "fake field goal" attempt the holder may pick the ball up and either throw a forward pass or run with the ball (i.e., act as the quarterback would on a standard play). In addition, the holder may attempt a run or pass if the snap is botched and a successful kick is unlikely. However, this rarely succeeds; the holder is usually tackled promptly.
There can also be a holder during kickoffs and free kicks, but this is reserved for when the ball tee cannot keep the ball up by itself, usually due to wind. In such a case, the holder can be of any position and, because kickoffs involve a much higher risk of being involved in a tackling play, is usually a defensive player of some sort.
Given the trivial nature of the position, no award for holders existed until 2015 when Peter Mortell, then a senior punter and holder for the Minnesota Golden Gophers and known for his humor, created a tongue-in-cheek "Holder of the Year" Award for the best holder in college football, named it after himself, and made himself its first recipient. ESPN recognized the award at their yearly ESPY Awards ceremony (alongside more serious, major position awards), with Mortell accepting via pre-recorded video. The award subsequently continued and was awarded in 2016 to senior quarterback/holder Garrett Moores of Michigan. In 2017, the award was given to Connor McGinnis of Oklahoma.
|Positions in American football and Canadian football|
|Offense (Skill position)||Defense||Special teams|
|Linemen||Guard, Tackle, Center||Linemen||Tackle, End||Kicking players||Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist|
|Quarterback (Dual-threat, Game manager, System)||Linebacker||Snapping||Long snapper, Holder|
|Backs||Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat), Fullback, H-back, Wingback||Backs||Cornerback, Safety, Halfback, Nickelback, Dimeback||Returning||Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer|
|Receivers||Wide receiver (Eligible), Tight end, Slotback, End||Tackling||Gunner, Upback, Utility|
|Formations (List) — Nomenclature — Strategy|