Going into his fifth-year senior season, Brandon Snyder is coming off two ACL surgeries in the last 14 months and say's he's good to go for 2018. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
Brandon Snyder laughs at the question before taking a moment to think.
What will it be like to play at Jack Trice Stadium … while not wearing a Hawkeye jersey?
"It’s definitely going to be different," he finally says, with another laugh. "That rivalry is unique. It’s special to all of college football, honestly. The Cy-Hawk is a really unique game, it’s a really fun game. There’s a lot of hate between the two schools and you can feel it when you’re in the stadium."
The newest member of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits is doing much more laughing and smiling nowadays. It’s a stark contrast to the uncertain and, at times, dark final chapter of his Iowa Hawkeyes career, which ended with two knee surgeries, an OWI arrest and Snyder electing to transfer to the FCS program on July 31.
In a phone conversation with the Register on Wednesday, Snyder said the sudden change of scenery took some getting used to. But he soon settled into the routine of football and felt at home with a new beginning in Brookings, South Dakota. He said he’s happier now than he has been in a long time.
Classes have begun — Snyder is enrolled in SDSU's exercise science graduate program — and things feel normal again.
"I’ve just enjoyed daily life better," he said. "I’ve enjoyed my relationships. Everything is just a little bit better."
Before he and his new teammates open their season Saturday against the Cyclones in Ames, Snyder opened up on why he chose to leave the Hawkeyes, how things were left with Iowa’s coaching staff, how life has changed since joining SDSU and what the future holds.
Why did he choose to transfer?
It boiled down to one major cause, Snyder said: He felt like he had lost himself in Iowa City and needed a fresh start to re-connect with his faith.
"My faith is really, really important to me. It’s something that I grew up with and was taught and I was kind of rooted in," Snyder said. "Just through all the things I went through at Iowa, I felt like maybe I lost a little bit of that. I was just living day-to-day based on whatever happened to me. That’s a roller-coaster way of living. Some days can be really ugly and some days can be good. I think I just needed a fresh start somewhere where (faith) is really valued and taught.
"(SDSU head) coach (John Stiegelmeier) is kind of just the epitome of that it means to be a Christian man. That’s something that we talked about, day one, when I came up here — just really getting back to having that at the center of my life and letting the rest take care of itself. Worrying about who you are first, and the rest of the stuff will be fine. Since I’ve done that, I’ve just been a lot happier."
Snyder said he has steered clear of alcohol while at SDSU, too. He was arrested in December 2017 for the OWI and was suspended for Iowa’s Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College.
SDSU's players have welcomed Snyder, he said.
"The first day, (junior safety) Larenzo Williams took me in and showed me around and welcomed me," Snyder said. "And the seniors — Makiah Slade and (Alex Romenesko) — just being great resources. That’s not an easy thing to do, but they took me in and we’ve gotten really close and we’ve had an awesome month getting to know each other and just bonding over football."
How were things left with Iowa’s coaches?
Snyder said there are no negative feelings between he and Iowa’s coaches. The decision for him to leave was mutual.
He looks back on his time in Iowa City with gratitude, especially for Kirk Ferentz.
"Their biggest concern was my health and me being well," he said of the Hawkeye coaching staff. "I left there on great terms with the coaches, and I’m thankful that they understood where I was coming from and were just there to help. From day one, they care about their players. They truly do. It was one of those conversations where we just though that this was what was best at the time. We got really honest and we just talked.
"I’m just thankful for (Ferentz’s) willingness to be open and to listen and just always put the players first. I think he’s always done that and I think that’s why he’s had such a long career at Iowa — because he’s always caring about the players. That’s so much more than football."
What it means to have family close again
A major reason Snyder chose SDSU was its proximity to family. Brookings is just a little more than an hour’s drive from Snyder’s hometown of Larchwood, Iowa. He said his parents, Tim and Sheri, have already visited him at SDSU multiple times.
Compare that to the six-hour trek the Snyders had to take from Larchwood to Iowa City. Still, they made it to every single game.
They would watch Snyder’s younger brother, Jaden, play on Friday nights, then drive halfway to Iowa City and spend the night in a hotel. The next day they’d drive to Iowa City, watch Brandon and then drive back home and be ready for church on Sunday.
Things will be so much easier this year, especially since Jaden, who was set to be a preferred walk-on freshman at Iowa, joined his brother at SDSU.
"You don’t get much time off at Iowa, and it’s a six-hour trek back. It’s been great just to see my parents’ faces and my sisters and brothers," Brandon Snyder said. "I can’t even begin to express how awesome that’s been (to have Jaden here with me) — just to be able to connect and use football as a way to get closer with him. And really just mentor him but, at the same time, just watch him grow into an awesome young man. I think it’s a unique experience that not many people get, and I’m super grateful to have it. I’m just thankful for him for bearing with me."
What does the future hold?
It was a big deal for the Jackrabbits to get Snyder, who stood out physically during fall camp. They graduated both starting safeties last year. So, whether Snyder starts or not, he should have an opportunity for an immediate impact.
"We’ll see. We’ll see as the game comes," Snyder said of his role this year, adding that SDSU's defense is similar to Iowa's. "It’s something that you’ve got to feel the game and we’ll figure it out. We’ll see come Saturday."
Snyder will also have a legitimate shot to play for an FCS national title this season. SDSU finished in the semifinals last season and ended ranked No. 3 in the country.
"This team has been knocking on the door for some time now. It’s one of those things that’s definitely an end goal of ours," Snyder said of winning the FCS title. "It’s not the goal. It’s not what’s going to carry us through every day. Going 1-0 each day is the priority and the rest will take care of itself.
"But this team has been knocking on the door for a while, and we’re ready to knock that door."
Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.