Leistikow: Brandon Snyder needs support, fresh start after facing dark battles

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

It was just seven weeks ago when Brandon Snyder greeted me with a big smile as he walked off the 18th green at the Wakonda Club in Des Moines.

There as an Iowa football representative at a Polk County I-Club fundraiser, Snyder was upbeat, positive and excited as we began to talk. He invited me to hop on his golf cart and talk some more as he continued his round.

In his only game in 2017, Brandon Snyder returned an interception 89 yards for a touchdown against Illinois. Another ACL tear, though, ended his season. Snyder will transfer to South Dakota State for his fifth-year senior year.

He and I had a good working relationship; we had first chatted two years earlier at this same event, mostly about his rocket-launch golf shots. That was before he broke onto the scene as a walk-on sophomore, in which he started all 13 games at free safety for the Hawkeyes, delivered several key turnovers and earned a scholarship at his dream school.

Snyder also remembered me from the story I had reported, through his family, about how he amazingly got back on the field within 5½ months of his first ACL surgery in April 2017.

This is all to say, there was a previous reporter-player relationship of openness and trust. So, he freely offered some of the demons he had been facing; a night that he'd been brought to tears; how he’d been trying to lean on his Christian faith to navigate through it. And I wrote about it.

He detailed the loneliness of monotonous, grueling rehab workouts he was enduring to bounce back from his second ACL surgery in November. He talked about the self-inflicted, tough road to regain good standing with the Hawkeye football program following his December OWI arrest.

But on this June day, he seemed to be around a corner, past the worst of his roughest times.

His knee was doing great; his weight-room numbers were stellar. He was finally working out with teammates again. Fall camp, often the most rugged portion of a college football player’s calendar, suddenly became Snyder’s Promised Land after playing just one game in 20 months.

“I’ve never been as excited for camp as I am now,” he said at the time, “which is kind of funny, how perspective changes.

“You just want to put the Hawkeye uniform on again, put shoulder pads and a helmet on again.”

Something changed again, though, in the past seven weeks. Snyder’s positive road to recovery at Iowa took a sharp detour. The listed co-starter at free safety is, suddenly, no longer a Hawkeye.

MORE:'There is none better:' Read Brandon Snyder's farewell statements

He will play at an FCS school, South Dakota State, to complete his final year of eligibility as a graduate transfer.

Snyder doesn't have a Twitter account, so he reached out to me to distribute the news. We chatted for a little bit again Tuesday morning. I wished him well. I expect we'll stay in touch. He's a good-hearted person who has made some poor choices since the second surgery to dig himself a hole within the Hawkeye program.

But those details aren't worth dwelling on. 

What's important is that Snyder the person is getting a fresh start. 

He needs a fresh start.

Buried underneath the headline of Snyder's departure is that there are more important things than football that he needs to take care of.

At Iowa, he publicly got caught up in alcohol use. There's no getting around the fact that Iowa City's bar culture provides a lot of temptations that can get college students, even those who mean well, into trouble.

On one of his dark nights in April, he was bawling as he called home to his parents, Tim and Sheri, who were 6 hours away.

After going through some really dark stuff, Snyder hopes moving back closer to home — SDSU's campus in Brookings is an easy 1-hour, 10-minute drive from his native Larchwood, Iowa — will provide him the support system he desires.

In a statement announcing his new school, these words stuck out: "I am excited to join a program with an excellent tradition of winning, and more importantly, a tradition of family culture. I truly believe this is where God is calling me to be, and I am grateful to the SDSU players and coaches for taking me in with open arms."

Snyder professes to be a Christian. One of the calls of that faith walk is changing the world in a positive way; but sometimes, the world instead changes you.

And sometimes, a fresh start is the best thing to turn a person's life into a positive direction.

"I’m deeply saddened I won’t be finishing my career as a Hawk," Snyder said in the statement he sent my way. "But I am excited for the many opportunities ahead. Time and time again, God has proven himself to know what’s best for me, and I’ll continue to believe that as I move on."

So, Snyder is getting a fresh start. So are the Hawkeyes.

The decision to part ways was mutual.

If you're reading this in Brookings you're getting a hungry, outstanding football player.

But more importantly, you're getting a young man who has been broken down, who is seeking personal redemption ... and who, more than anything, could use your love and support.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.