INWOOD, Ia. – Two things happened during Jaden Snyder’s eighth-grade year that started him on the path to being an Iowa football player.
First, he saw his oldest brother, Brandon become a walk-on with the Hawkeyes. Jaden fantasized about joining him someday so they could finally be on the same team. He even secretively wrote it down in his notebook.
Second, Jaden decided to start getting out of bed at 5 a.m. again to join his brothers for pre-dawn workout sessions at West Lyon High School.
“He would lock his door in the morning so I couldn’t wake him up,” Colin Snyder recalled of his younger brother’s one-year boycott of weight-lifting. “After a while, with me and Brandon encouraging him, he started to fall in love with it. And it turned from him locking the door to him getting mad if I didn’t wake him up.”
Jaden grew to be the biggest of the Snyder brothers, potentially a future outside linebacker at Iowa. He’s on the cusp of realizing that five-year-old dream, walking on with the Hawkeyes this summer after turning down full-ride scholarships from three FCS schools, including Northern Iowa.
“I’ll probably redshirt my first year,” Jaden Snyder said. “But I’ll be on the team with (Brandon). Just the experience and memories of his senior year. It’s surreal. I really don’t know what to expect. It’s something you can’t really picture until you do it.”
Brandon and Jaden Snyder: Two brothers with remarkably similar paths
Brandon Snyder came to Iowa in 2014, also turning down FCS-level scholarships. He made his mark on special teams, biding his time, until emerging as the Hawkeyes’ starting free safety in 2016 as a redshirt sophomore (when he also earned a scholarship). Knee injuries deprived him of all but one game in 2017, but he is on track to participate in summer practice sessions alongside Jaden.
Jaden’s story is remarkably similar. He was a multisport star at West Lyon, just like Brandon. In addition to football, there was basketball and baseball. And golf. Until his senior year, when Jaden took up track and field. Just like Brandon.
But they never got to play on the same team, that five-year age difference getting in the way.
“I always wanted to be a part of his team,” Jaden said of Brandon. “His senior year of baseball, we were going to. But he had Tommy John surgery.”
Brandon and Jaden both got to spend a couple of years playing alongside Colin, who is exactly in the middle of the two (sister Payton is the youngest, a budding basketball and volleyball player who will be a high school freshman in the fall). Colin is heading into his junior season as a linebacker at Northwestern College in Orange City, alma mater of his parents, Tim and Sheri.
The Snyder brothers all gravitated toward football. Jaden was the kicker for four seasons at West Lyon, the starting quarterback for three, a defensive back for two. He was even the team’s rugby-style punter.
Jaden was such an accomplished quarterback that the team passed more than it ever had, said longtime coach Jay Rozeboom. But his college future is on the defensive side. Iowa offered him a preferred walk-on spot last fall.
Around Christmas, the FCS scholarship offers started rolling in. South Dakota, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa all wanted Jaden.
Tim and Sheri Snyder sat their son down to explain the financial implications.
“We were encouraging him, showing him the dollar figures, saying, ‘You can’t pass this up, Bud,’” Tim Snyder said.
Jaden understood all of that, and then passed up the free college education anyway.
“(Iowa) is where my heart was. The money was a factor, obviously, but I couldn’t go against my heart because I wouldn’t be happy if I was there just for the money,” Jaden said.
He looks forward to earning that money, just like Brandon.
“I wouldn’t go there if I didn’t think I could play,” Jaden said of Iowa. “I’m going to work my butt off.”
Jaden Snyder bulks up over winter: 'You're a linebacker now'
Jaden Snyder announced his decision to go to Iowa in January, in the middle of his basketball season. At 6-foot-2, he is already the tallest of the Snyder brothers (Brandon is 6-1, Colin 5-11). But he also added 10 pounds during the winter, up to 210.
Iowa’s coaches were a little surprised at Jaden’s size when he showed up last month for the football team’s final spring practice. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker took one look at his newest Snyder and said: “You need to go see Seth (Wallace). You’re a linebacker now.”
Wallace coaches linebackers. Snyder expects to start out at safety but can see himself adding 20 pounds and perhaps sliding to the outside linebacker position.
“He’s just bigger than Brandon,” Tim Snyder said of Jaden. “Brandon was 195 as a (high school) senior. Jaden’s five inches longer than Brandon. Broader. They have completely different features.”
They also have different personalities. Jaden is much quieter than Brandon, who is naturally outgoing and quickly emerged as one of Iowa’s team leaders.
Tim Snyder admitted he would be concerned about watching his youngest son go so far away for college if his oldest brother wasn’t there to guide him.
“Sending (Brandon) out to Iowa, I had no fear that he would fit in socially. Jaden’s more like his mom. I would be nervous for Jaden if Brandon wasn’t down there,” Tim said. “Brandon was the biggest selling point. They won’t live together. Jaden will be in the dorms. But they’ll be together at practice, in film sessions. It will give Jaden a comfort level.”
Jaden Snyder embraces hard work, makes prophetic prediction
The brothers will no doubt find time to lift weights together. That’s been the biggest change in Jaden’s approach to sports. Back home on Christmas morning, they even got up early to head to the high school along with current Hawkeye wide receiver Kyle Groeneweg for an impromptu workout.
“When I was a little seventh-grader, I hated working hard. I hated the weight room,” Jaden recalled. “Then I saw what (his older brothers and their teammates) were doing. I saw the potential that was there if you work hard.”
It was about this time that Colin Snyder took a peek at Jaden’s notebook one day.
It said: “I’m going to be a University of Iowa football player.”
“He wouldn’t share that with anyone else,” Colin said. “All of his accomplishments and the hard work he puts in, he’s going to be the last one to say anything about himself. He’s just got this quiet confidence about him. He worked harder than anyone. He was always hungry, and it still shows.”