Buccaneers’ long snapper grew up a Patriots fan. Now, he will try to help childhood idol Tom Brady win Super Bowl.

Of course, Zach Triner gushed over the famous ex-Patriot when he first met him.

Who wouldn’t swoon in the presence of … Lonie Paxton?

Yep, Lonie Paxton, who became a cult figure around here in the early 2000s, when his long-snapping set the table for Adam Vinatieri’s two last-second, Super Bowl-winning kicks.

When you grow up as a diehard Patriots fan and then grow into being an NFL long-snapper yourself, talking shop with Paxton is near the top of your bucket list.

“I fanboy’d Lonie in California,” Triner said with a laugh. “He’s living out in the San Diego area. I went out there and was working with John Carney, who kicked in the league for a few decades. He was like, ‘Hey, I think Lonie’s in the area. Do you want to meet up?’ Before he even finished the sentence, I was like, ‘Yes, absolutely. That would be awesome.’ So I got to meet up with him.

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“Everyone was making fun of me because they knew I was from New England. The first thing I said was, ‘Hey, Lonie, so nice to meet you. I actually had your jersey growing up.’ He was like, ‘What? Why did you do that? You might have been the only non-Paxton family member to have my jersey.’ That was a cool moment.”.

These days, cool moments for Triner are piling up.

The Marshfield (Massachusetts) High graduate, who still lives in town, finally made the NFL last season as a 28-year-old rookie after a long and winding road that featured a brief college lacrosse career and a three-year hitch selling mutual funds for Fidelity Investments. Now, his 30th birthday last Saturday found him prepping for Super Bowl LV as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I’m trying to keep that under wraps,” Triner said with a laugh about turning 30. “It got out, obviously. That always went hand-in-hand, the Super Bowl and my birthday. To be able to actually be in one is a little different, but definitely an upgrade.”.


OK, let’s talk about the Hall of Fame elephant in the room. What’s it like to play with Tom Brady?

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“There’s no question that he’s the best player to ever do it at his position, if not any position,” Triner said. “When it comes to the numbers and things like that, that’s obvious. But being able to watch how he carries himself in the locker room, how he interacts with all of us as teammates, is definitely something I’ll take with me well beyond my football years.

“There was one moment with Rob Gronkowski earlier in the year, and he was like, ‘Man, Rob, the way that you broke off that route and the way that you finished it, something’s different. You really worked on that in the offseason.’ And Rob said, ‘Oh, I can’t believe you just said that, Tom. Yeah, I worked really hard on that this offseason.’ I was just passing by and I heard that and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s how you do it as a teammate.’ There’s no question that’s why he is where he is.”.

Triner, who was 11 when Brady won his first Super Bowl on Feb. 3, 2002, acknowledges that sometimes meeting your childhood idol can be deflating because they can’t measure up to the fantasy in your head. But he’s happy to report that it “couldn’t be farther from the case” in this case.

Triner says his initial encounter with Brady was super-casual.

“I learned my lesson with Lonie,” he said with a laugh. “I just introduced myself and said I was from New England and just said how happy I was to have him in the locker room. In Tom form, he stopped what he was doing and gave me his attention and we had a conversation from there. I kept my cool.”.

And he insists he doesn’t name-drop Brady into casual conversations with friends and family. “I was talking to Tom the other day and he said the funniest thing …”.

“I have a really good set of friends,” Triner notes. “If I did that they’d instantly make fun of me. They keep me in check.”.

But while Triner is playing it all smooth, many members of his inner circle are in full geek-out mode about the fact that Triner might actually have a hand in winning Brady his seventh Super Bowl.

“It still seems surreal,” his mom, Kristin, said.

“We say that every day,” dad Steve chimed in.

“Last year,” Kristin noted, “it was like, ‘Oh, your son plays for Tampa Bay?’ Now it’s, ‘Oh, your son plays for TAMPA BAY!?!?'”.

Said Steve: “Never in a million years (did we think Zach and Brady would wind up together). Neither did Zach. After we found out (Brady was relocating) and we talked to (Zach), he’s like, ‘I don’t even know what to say now. I’m in shock that he’s coming to the Bucs.'”.

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He’s not the only one.

“It is incredible to see Zach’s name and picture on the (team) website and all of a sudden you’re scrolling and there’s Tom Brady and Gronk,” said Andrew Nashawaty, who coached Triner in youth football and is close friends with the family. “It’s mind-blowing. It really is.”.

“It’s like rooting for the Patriots, still. Even better,” said Bryan Hernon, one of Triner’s Marshfield buddies who is headed to Tampa for the game. “Not only is it my first Super Bowl – and it’ll probably be my only Super Bowl – but it’s Brady and my best friend playing in it.”.


So, after all this time, has Triner perfected the art of long-snapping?

“There are a lot of comparisons between the (football) specialists world and golf,” Triner said. “If you go ask Tiger (Woods), ‘Have you perfected it?’ He wouldn’t say yes. … I don’t think I’ve mastered it. There’s always something that I can improve on. Hopefully I can continue to improve little bit by little bit.”.

In a way, incremental might be the perfect way to describe Triner’s football progress.

A star guard/defensive end in high school, he added long-snapping to his resume and found it oddly satisfying, for a generally thankless job.

“I think my first pressure snap was (in 2008) we played Beverly Hills (High) in California,” Triner said. “There was a last-second field goal, either into halftime or to end the game, and we made it. I was like, ‘That was different. That was a cool feeling being able to handle that.'”.

Triner thought he had left football behind for a college lacrosse career, but a coaching change at Siena, where he had starred in 2010-11, led him to rethink his goals and he switched to the Division II football program at Assumption College in Worcester.

He wasn’t drafted (no surprise), but he refused to give up. That started a multi-year odyssey in which he tried out for seven different teams, including the Patriots, but never stuck anywhere, although he did make it to the end of training camp with the Packers one year before getting axed.

Never gave up, though.

Hernon remembers tagging along with Triner for an offseason weekend in Chicago once so Triner could work out with a recently retired Bears long-snapper. He also recalls serving as the holder for Triner’s endless late-night workouts at a local gym. “He’d whip (the ball) back, and it was freezing in that gym,” Hernon said, “so it’d just kill your hands.”.

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Brady’s chip on the shoulder is legendary, as the 199th player chosen in the 2000 NFL Draft. But few could play the nobody-believed-in-me-but-me card any better than Triner.

“We’re so proud of him,” his mom said. “It doesn’t even really matter that he’s going to the Super Bowl. We’re so proud of his perseverance. He’s worked so hard for all of this. It’s amazing. Not that we’re not excited for the Super Bowl, but it’s (impressive) no matter if that was the end or not.”.

Said his dad: “We’re so blessed with how it’s all turned out. I remember one time he said to me, ‘Dad, I don’t know. What do you think? Should I keep going?’ I told him, ‘You keep going until the end. Don’t stop until you get what you want.’ He just continued and continued and never gave up. He got his break that he needed.”.

Now, all these years later, Triner is on the verge on playing in the Super Bowl. With Tom Brady. In his home stadium in Tampa. The script is a bit far-fetched, no?

“The way it’s lined up is absolutely incredible,” Nashawaty said. “He couldn’t have landed in a better spot at a better time than he has in Tampa. It’s like the stars were aligned for him.”.

On Sunday, Triner’s mom will settle into her seat and try to keep it together emotionally.

“I haven’t stopped crying since they won (the NFC championship in Green Bay),” Kristin said. “I can’t even imagine (what the Super Bowl is going to be like).”.

On the field, Triner will focus on the task at hand – beating the Kansas City Chiefs -and maybe reflect on a strange and wonderful few months that included the NFL’s first-ever virtual offseason, which allowed him to spend more time in Marshfield last spring with his folks; his wife, Carissa (they went to high school together); and their 8-month-old daughter, Indy.

And maybe, if the moment calls for it, he’ll get to emulate his idol, who was always so cool under pressure on the biggest stage.

No, not Tom Brady.

“I grew up watching him make pressure snap after pressure snap, always being around, being a good teammate,” Triner said of Lonie Paxton. “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.”.

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