"We did it."
When long snapper Rick Lovato called his parents to tell them that he was about to sign a four-year contract extension with the Eagles through 2023, he wanted to make sure to thank them for their support.
Before Lovato made his Eagles debut at the end of the 2016 season and won the full-time job the following Training Camp, Lovato bounced around with stops in Chicago, Green Bay, and Washington since signing with the Bears as a rookie free agent following the 2015 NFL Draft. In between gigs, Lovato worked at his father Rick Sr.'s sandwich shop, Joyce's Subs and Pizza in Lincroft, New Jersey, about an hour and a half from Lincoln Financial Field. During his free time, Lovato and his dad went to a park near the high school where he played at, Middletown South, and practiced snapping, waiting for a call from an NFL team that may or may not ever come.
The two were working out at the park on December 11, 2016 as the Eagles hosted Washington. Two-time Pro Bowl long snapper Jon Dorenbos broke his wrist and immediately underwent surgery, ending his season. The Eagles turned to Lovato. There was no tryout. Lovato, who played two games earlier that year for Washington, was handed the job for the final three games of 2016. Lovato won the job outright the following Training Camp and nearly three years after his first snap with the team is entrenched as a critical component of one of the most successful kicking operations in the league with kicker Jake Elliott and punter Cameron Johnston.
"To know that I'm going to be here for the next four years is incredible. It's what I've been looking forward to since the day I first got here and that's being with this team for the rest of my career," the 27-year-old Lovato said. "I'm a Jersey guy who grew up right down the road. This is just a dream come true for me.
"It's tough to find that first job in the NFL. It took me a few teams to really find my home. But once I found my home, I wanted to make it permanent, proving that I belonged in this league for a very long time. The day has finally come where I can tell everyone that this is my opportunity to go show Philadelphia who I am for the next four years, but hopefully the next 10 years of my career, at least."
Not bad for a player who was never better than a third-team all-conference selection in high school. Lovato's mother, Maureen, a longtime physical education teacher at Long Branch High School and Middle School, worked with Bengals Pro Bowl long snapper Clark Harris' father-in-law and through that connection started her son on his career path. Staying close to his family is another reason why the Eagles' job "was the one I wanted the most," Lovato said. "I couldn't have imagined a better place to play."
In Lovato's first full season as the long snapper in 2017, he helped Elliott, then a rookie, kick the longest field goals in franchise history in both the regular season (61 yards vs. Giants) and postseason (53 yards vs. Falcons). Elliott also nailed the longest field goals in Super Bowl history by a rookie, including a clutch 46-yarder late in the game to provide the final points in the 41-33 championship victory. This season, Elliott has been successful on all 13 of his field goal attempts, and 14 in a row dating back to 2018.
Johnston won the Eagles' punting job in 2018 and in his first NFL season set the franchise records for both gross punting average (48.1 yards) and net punting average (42.7). Since the start of last season, Johnston, who is also the holder for Elliott, is second in the NFL in gross punting average (48.0) and tied for first in net punting average (42.8).
"It's just that smooth operation that you see with other teams that keep three specialists for long periods of time. You can see how successful those groups are," Lovato said. "It just goes to show how close we have become chemistry-wise on the field and off the field. Me, Cam, and Jake are such a tight-knit group. We're discussing things and making each other better. We just really trust each other and what we're doing. Our operation is so comfortable."