By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The list of football players who came to UVa as walk-ons and later became significant contributors is a long one. It includes such players as Patrick Jeffers, Derek Dooley, Tim Finkelston, Jon Copper, Alex Seals and Byron Glaspy.
Wide receiver Matt Snyder is continuing that tradition.
A redshirt junior whom first-year coach Mike London put on scholarship this summer, Snyder has 17 catches for 253 yards this season. He’s coming off a game in which he caught a career-high 6 passes.
“He works hard at it,” London said Saturday night after Virginia’s 48-21 rout of Eastern Michigan at Scott Stadium. “We’ve talked about him, who he was, his makeup, his DNA so to speak. He relishes the role that he has.”
Snyder’s role has grown since sophomore wideout Tim Smith had season-ending ankle surgery last month. Snyder, a graduate of Deep Run High School, didn’t have a reception until the Cavaliers’ third game.
At 6-4, he towers over most defensive backs, and Snyder showed against Georgia Tech that he’s adept at making jump-ball catches. He has also excelled on more routine plays.
“Matt’s doing great,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “He’s reliable, he’s dependable, he’s physically tough, and he works as hard as anyone on the team to do everything the right way.”
Another wideout who arrived at UVa as a walk-on and is now on scholarship, Ray Keys, has 3 receptions for 48 yards this season. He’s also a special-teams standout.
Snyder joined the program in 2007, when London was Al Groh’s defensive coordinator. Keys arrived a year later.
Virginia’s current roster includes more than 30 walk-ons. Some were invited to join the team. Others had to try out.
“When you first put out feelers in terms of anyone interested in walking on, they come in,” London said. “It’s sort of like an interview process, where you have an opportunity to sit down and talk to them and ask about some of their greatest accomplishments. Some things that they failed at. Some things that they’re looking to be. What they want to do.
“And when you get a sense of that, then you find out how they’re doing in school, whether they’re in good standing or on [academic] warning or whatever it may be, if there’s any issues that they have pending with behavior, both on Grounds and in the community. And then you take ’em out and you work ’em out and see if they can run, catch and chew gum at the same time.
“So you do all that. And if they look like they can do something, you’re always looking for a guy that can perhaps help you,” whether it be as a long-snapper or kicker or wideout.
“And then you try to find a spot for them on the team,” London said. “A lot of times it’s maybe the scout team or the show team. But these guys that come out, that walk on, understand what the odds are. Most of them, they want to be a part of a team, they want to be part of an organization, part of something that they belong to.
“They contribute out of the pure joy of it, the love of it, because they’re paying for school on their own. I can say that once one is here, all the players are treated the same. There is no distinction made between scholarship player and walk-on, because this place has a history of guys who’ve been walk-ons that have worked hard enough that have earned scholarships.”