You’ve never heard of Lonie Paxton, have you?
If you have, you can be on my sports trivia team any day.
Or you’re a New England Patriots fan.
Well before Zach Triner ever put on a Siena Saints men’s lacrosse jersey, he had a Lonie Paxton Patriots jersey.
Triner grew up in Marshfield, Massachusetts, 30 miles south of Boston, and was 11 years old when quarterback Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl with New England in 2002. But Triner didn’t covet the familiar No. 12, he had to have a Paxton 66.
It’s a measure of the circuitous route and fortuitous sequence of events that can usher a pro athlete all the way to the Super Bowl that Triner will be suiting up as the long snapper — Paxton’s position for 12 NFL seasons — for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV on Sunday.
In Tampa, Florida, no less.
With Tom Brady as a teammate, no less.
In doing so, Triner took a little-used on-ramp from Division II football obscurity to one of the biggest stages in all of sports, and did so with a twist. A football-lacrosse combo among multi-sport athletes isn’t unusual (see: Jim Brown). But Triner is a rarity in that he switched sports in the midst of his small-school college career and somehow still managed to get to the Super Bowl.
His idol, Paxton, is the guy who slid into the end zone and made a snow angel (is that starting to ring a bell now?) after long-snapping on Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal to beat the Oakland Raiders and reach the 2001 AFC Championship Game. While Paxton was jubilantly flapping his arms and legs on his back in a raging snowstorm, Vinatieri was being carried off on the shoulders of teammates.
It seems unlikely that Triner will enjoy such a moment on Sunday, but at this point, why would you rule anything out?
As Triner told Eric McHugh for a story posted by the Patriot Ledger newspaper of Quincy, Massachusetts this week: “I grew up watching him make pressure snap after pressure snap, always being around, being a good teammate. I don’t know if I ever fully believed that I would be in the position that he was in. But he certainly blazed a trail that I can hopefully be able to sniff.”
The obvious echo is to Chris Hogan, who played lacrosse at Penn State, transferred to Monmouth to play football and went on to win two Super Bowls with the Patriots, in 2017 and 2019.
Triner played football and lacrosse at Marshfield High and spent his freshman year of college in 2011 as a faceoff specialist on a good men’s lacrosse team at Siena, which didn’t offer football.
The Saints won the MAAC championship with a 12-3 victory over Detroit Mercy before losing to Syracuse 10-4 at the Carrier Dome in the first round of the NCAA tournament, ending the season. Triner had no way of knowing it at the time, but that was also the end of his lacrosse career.
Head coach Brian Brecht left for the job at Rutgers, and Triner transferred to Assumption University in Worcester, Massachusetts, returning to football, as a defensive lineman and long snapper.
He graduated in 2015 and spent three years selling mutual funds while keeping a narrow grip on aspirations to make the NFL as a long snapper.
That included workouts with his beloved Patriots, Jacksonville, the New York Jets, the Houston Texans, and a stint on the practice squad with the Green Bay Packers in 2017.
Finally, he became a Buccaneer in 2019 and made his NFL debut on Sept. 8 of that year, wearing his old No. 97 from college.
The Buccaneers roster page on pro-football-reference.com shows the 30-year-old Triner with a blank space in the “Drafted” column, a salary of $675,000, and Assumption in the “College” column, among the Clemsons, LSUs and Penn States of his teammates.
The ranks of Super Bowl veterans is sprinkled with Division II players, including Danny Woodhead (Chadron State), who scored the Patriots’ first touchdown in 2012, a 21-17 loss to the Giants, and Vinatieri himself (South Dakota State).
If Triner’s resume is a departure from that of a typical NFL Super Bowl player, his craft is not so far removed from what he did as a Siena lacrosse player.
His job with the Saints was to secure possession on a restart, then get the hell off the field at the earliest convenience to be replaced by someone more proficient at scoring goals.
He is being paid $675,000 by the Buccaneers as a long snapper to fire precision missiles between his legs on punts by Bradley Pinion and placekicks by Ryan Succop — and, then, get the hell off the field.
As Triner told US Lacrosse magazine this week, “There are a lot of similarities between facing off and being a specialist in the NFL. You’re doing the same thing over and over.”
Over the course of four seasons with the Patriots, Paxton was the snapper on nine game-winning field goals off the foot of Vinatieri, including the game-winner as time expired to beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, two weeks after the snow-angel kick that beat the Raiders. Paxton reprised his snow-angel bit — sans the snow, since the game was played inside the Louisiana Superdome — when Vinatieri beat the Rams.
What will Sunday hold for Triner?
The long, strange, convoluted road has turned a Saint into a pirate and improbably made a teammate of No. 12 Tom Brady.
But Triner gets his kicks on Paxton 66.