IOWA CITY, Ia. — Before Brandon Snyder decided to turn down a scholarship offer from North Dakota State in order to try to make it as a walk-on safety at Iowa, his father turned to a pair of experts for advice.
Derek Pagel and Sean Considine had traveled the very path Tim Snyder’s son was contemplating — from walk-on Hawkeyes to NFL Draft picks at safety. Considine told Tim Snyder what he wanted to hear.
“You can’t just work hard, you’ve got to be the hardest worker every day,” Considine told the elder Snyder. “If you do that, coach (Chris) Doyle will find you.”
Doyle is Iowa’s longtime strength and conditioning coach and he scours the weight room looking for athletes willing to put in the time to transform their bodies. Snyder knew his son had that drive.
And now Brandon Snyder is slated to be the starting free safety when Iowa opens its season by hosting Miami of Ohio on Sept. 3. The redshirt sophomore from tiny West Lyon High School has arrived, just as he promised his parents when he passed up a chance to join the Bison of the FCS to pursue a longtime dream in Iowa City.
This summer, Snyder even got to call his parents and break the good news — he was being put on scholarship, easing a financial burden for the family.
“It was exciting,” Brandon Snyder said of that phone call. “Mom (Sheri) was emotional.”
“I always told them that I’d eventually earn one someday, so they trusted me with that and then it came true.”
Snyder was a multi-sport athlete growing up in Larchwood, basketball being his favorite sport, his father said, with a Division II college the most likely destination for the 6-foot-1 point guard. But a frightening injury in the final game of Snyder’s junior season of basketball altered his path.
Snyder went up for a routine jumpshot in the third quarter of a playoff game and landed with a wince. It was assumed he had sprained an ankle, and he was taped up and returned to play, eventually missing the shot that could have won the game and returning home in anguish. Tim Snyder thought his son’s pain was mostly internal, blaming himself for the lost game. It turned out to be much more serious, necessitating an early morning trip to urgent care.
Snyder was eventually diagnosed with compartment syndrome — excessive pressure that can impede the flow of blood to and from tissue — a condition that can result in the loss of a limb without surgery. Snyder got the surgery he needed just in time, his father said, and emerged with a new attitude.
“He almost lost his leg. He was staring at never being able to do anything (in competitive athletics) again,” Tim Snyder said. “I think he relaxed more. I think he enjoyed the game more.”
As a senior, Brandon Snyder led West Lyon to championships in football and basketball (the school’s first-ever in that sport). He also set his college aspirations a little higher, intent on playing Division I football, although he knew it wouldn’t be as a quarterback, which he played in high school.
Tim Snyder said his oldest child — Brandon has two brothers and a sister — had always been preternaturally focused. He would tape goals to his bedroom wall. One night, arriving home exhausted at 9:30 p.m. after competing in the state track meet in Des Moines, his father expected Brandon to head straight to bed.
Instead, he asked his dad to come spot him during a weightlifting session.
“I wanted to say no,” Tim Snyder said, “and he followed up with, ‘Dad, there’s nobody else in the state who’s going to be lifting tonight.’”
So when Brandon informed his parents that he wanted to turn down a nearly free education at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State to try to earn a roster spot — and eventually a scholarship — as a recruited walk-on at Iowa, they gave him some leeway. It wasn’t easy, Tim Snyder admitted.
“Parents are probably more apt to take the safe road just because we understand the cost of education, being in debt,” Snyder said.
If Brandon hadn’t earned a scholarship?
“He would have been selling his car at some point, let’s put it that way,” Tim said.
Brandon Snyder did catch the attention of Doyle and the rest of the Iowa coaches. He redshirted as a freshman and then earned playing time primarily on special teams last year, picking up the “team hustle award” for defensive players along the way. Against Northwestern, Snyder had a bit of a breakthrough game with three tackles and a partial block of a punt.
In the spring, Snyder was elevated to the top of the depth chart at free safety, where he will replace the graduated Jordan Lomax. It makes him the quarterback of the defense.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker is confident Snyder will fill the role capably, even comparing him to past Hawkeyes Pagel, Considine and Brett Greenwood.
“What I see him doing is taking a leadership role back there,” Parker said. “The free safety’s the guy that dictates everything in the back end and he’s got to be a commander back there.”
Snyder said he’s continually feeling more at ease with his position and gaining the trust of his teammates.
“As you progress and make more plays and continue to evolve and get better, you start to earn respect from the coaches and from the players. It’s not something that happens overnight,” he said. “You don’t come to a position and just everyone listens to you.”
Being put on scholarship was a big milestone. Last year, Snyder watched as offensive lineman Cole Croston and wide receiver Riley McCarron took that step. He claimed not to be too concerned about when his turn would come.
“It’s not the end goal. The end goal is to win football games,” Snyder reiterated last week. “It’s to continue evolving as a player so I can add value to this team.”
His father knew better.
“Brandon wouldn’t talk about it but we knew it was important to him. He wanted to be able to say, ‘I’m one of them now,’” Tim Snyder said. “You get treated the same, but there’s still a difference inside to say, ‘I earned it.’ Brandon would not have wanted it any other way.”