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IOWA CITY — Yes, Brandon Snyder is the new guy. He’ll be Iowa’s free safety this fall. The former walk-on and now newly on scholarship sophomore’s job will be to tell all-American Desmond King where to line up.
OK, that’ll kind of be his job. King is King. He knows what he’s doing, but still, coverages have to be set and offenses need to be diagnosed before the collisions commence.
Along with King, the Hawkeyes also have senior cornerback Greg Mabin, who has 26 career starts, and junior strong safety Miles Taylor, who returns to his spot for the second season.
All eyes are on Snyder. You know, the new guy.
“He’s seizing his opportunity to be the starting free safety for us,” King said. “He’s got good size and he’s very smart, physical and tough. We’re looking for him to stand in Jordan Lomax’s shoes (Lomax was a two-year starter at free safety who’s now with the Los Angeles Rams).”
Size is the first thing you’ll notice. Snyder is 6-1, 210 pounds. He looks linebacker-ish, like a classicly built downhill safety/super hero. It’s a place to start, but remember, part of the free safety’s job in Iowa’s defense is aligning coverages.
“What I’m going to have him do back there is control the back end,” defensive coordinator/secondary coach Phil Parker said. “He’s got to make sure everyone is in the right spot and that you make the right calls. You have to have great vision back there. He’s going to have to play the deep balls, be the guy who comes over the top, and then he’s going to have to come down in the box. I think he’s an aggressive guy who can tackle you, too.”
That’s all the former West Lyon High School all-state quarterback has to do. Sounds like a lot, but that’s OK. Everyone who punches their way to a scholarship, which Snyder earned before fall camp opened, and the starting lineup, which was won this spring, goes through the vetting process.
These are the moments where you conquer or where you are conquered.
In the last game of his junior basketball season, Snyder, a two-time all-stater in basketball, went up for a jump shot and came down. His leg wasn’t right and his night was over with what he thought was “a cramp thing.”
It wasn’t. The pain was excruciating. Snyder couldn’t sleep for three consecutive nights. The injury went through a pair of diagnosis and both were wrong.
He woke up on a Friday morning with his leg numb and swollen. His mom, Sheri, had seen enough. It was another trip to a walk-in clinic in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“My mom made me go in one more time on a Friday night,” Snyder said. “They said, ‘Oh, you have compartment syndrome.’”
Compartment syndrome is an increased pressure in a muscle compartment, usually caused by a contact injury. It can lead to muscle and nerve damage and problems with blood flow.
And that can lead to amputation.
“Compartment syndrome can be limb-threatening,” he said. “My leg could’ve ended up needing amputation if I would’ve let it go through the weekend.”
It wasn’t so much the blow in the basketball game that triggered the compartment syndrome, it was a torn muscle in his leg, which also was repaired.
“I learned a lot from that,” he said. “I learned to appreciate the game and all that it entails. When you see it almost disappear, you start to really appreciate what it’s all about.”
The recovery was supposed to last six months. Snyder medaled in recovery, too, cutting that time in half.
He ended up back on the football field and quarterbacked West Lyon to the 2013 Class 1A state title. He averaged 13.7 points for a 23-5 basketball team. He also ran on 4x100 and 4x200 relays that claimed medals at state track. Snyder was an all-conference shortstop. In the spring after the surgery, Snyder was West Lyon’s top player in the 1A state golf tournament, helping the Wildcats to a third-place finish in the team race.
Snyder’s 2013 began with a doctor telling him ‘Good thing you didn’t wait to come in, you might’ve lost right leg,’ and it ended with what has to be a ridiculously trophied bedroom back in Larchwood.
“When you have to sit out that long, you understand that this game is a privilege to play,” said Snyder, who had 11 tackles mostly on special teams duty last season. “You learn to appreciate it. The game means a lot more to you. In the big scheme of things it was a blessing for me. I learned more from that than from any success or victories that I’ve had. In the big scheme, it was definitely a blessing.”
That’s one section of Snyder’s vetting. A high school athlete who was the 1A football player of the year (he also was the kicker, hitting 55 of 58 PATs in his career), his school’s career scoring leader in basketball and with good size and speed is going to attract attention from colleges.
He visited North Dakota State and did receive a scholarship offer to the FCS powerhouse, which, coincidentally, visits Iowa this fall.
He turned down some money, not a lot he said, but he did turn down some to walk-on with the Hawkeyes. Snyder wanted to play for Iowa, where West Lyon teammate Jake Newborg had earned a scholarship. Mom and dad, Sheri and Tim, weren’t going to stand in their son’s way on this, even if there was some tuition money on the table.
“I have to thank my parents for trusting that I was going to make the most out of this opportunity,” Snyder said. “It was a risk, but they trusted me to make the most of this and allow me to chase my dream. I always wanted to be a Hawkeye growing up.”
A closer look: Iowa's 2016 secondary
Snyder went into summer workouts listed as a starter on the depth chart. Summer is scholarship time. If the money is available, Iowa will reward players who’ve earned a starting role or who are in the two deeps. Last summer, it was wide receiver Riley McCarron and offensive tackle Cole Croston. He didn’t stress on the scholarship thing. Never did.
“It’s probably good for his family, obviously,” Parker said. “To him, I don’t think it changes what he does on the field. He came here to play football and to be the best player he can be.
“Some kids like to be on scholarship and some kids like to play football. You like to find the guys who like to just play football and money isn’t the issue. When you have a guy like that, it’s not a big deal when you get the scholarship. It really doesn’t matter, he’s going to go out and do what he has to do to be a good player.”
The when and how it happens isn’t lightning striking and there’s no smoke machine or fireworks. It’s an accumulation. Is there anything that vets more constantly than football?
“I don’t think there was a eureka moment,” Snyder said. “Over time you take these small steps and start to figure out how things work and why guys are successful and you apply that to your life. I don’t think it’s a eureka moment.”
A few of those might be ahead for the new guy. He’s been through some stuff. He’ll deal.