By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On the visitors’ sideline at Byrd Stadium, a tall young man on crutches beamed Saturday afternoon as the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard clock.
The UVa football team’s 31-13 victory over Maryland made the Cavaliers bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. The win had special significance for wide receiver Matt Snyder, who knows that he’s now likely to suit up for the Wahoos again.
A fifth-year senior from the Richmond area, Snyder broke a bone in his left foot during practice Oct. 18. Three days later, Dr. David Diduch inserted a screw in the foot, and Snyder has been on crutches since.
The 6-5, 215-pound Snyder won’t play again during the regular season, but he’s confident that he’ll be cleared for a bowl game if the ‘Hoos, as expected, receive an invitation. To say he was thrilled about UVa’s win in College Park would be an understatement.
“You have to have something to work for always, or else what are you doing?” Snyder said after practice Tuesday morning. “I was trying to take the role of being a more vocal leader and trying to teach guys and be more of a coach. But now I have the opportunity to hopefully rehab my way back into the rotation for a bowl game.”
Snyder, a team captain, started five of the six games in which he played this season. One of the Cavaliers’ best perimeter blockers, he also caught 19 passes for 220 yards.
“I think everyone around the program would be excited to get Matt back out there,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said, “because it’s such a great story: coming from walk-on to special-teams player to wide receiver to scholarship player to captain. Matt’s story, I think, is inspiring, and everyone on and around the team recognizes it.”
Snyder, who’s still in a walking boot, said his foot is healing well. He’s scheduled to have it X-rayed again Monday, Snyder said, after which he’ll know more about the timetable for his return to practice.
There are two Snyders, of course, on second-year Mike London’s team. Matt’s brother Jake, a redshirt sophomore, starts at defensive end for the Cavaliers. Matt earned his bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs last spring and is now enrolled in a master’s program in the Curry School of Education.
He’s taking 12 credit hours this semester, so Snyder can’t be at the McCue Center all the time. But he’s been training with Evan Marcus, UVa’s strength-and-conditioning coach for football, at every opportunity.
“It’s been fun,” Snyder said. “He’s been putting stuff together for me. It’s been all upper body and core stuff. No cardio yet, but next week I can probably start biking.”
With Snyder sidelined, the production of fellow wideouts Kris Burd and Tim Smith has soared. Burd, a fifth-year senior, has caught 15 passes for 189 yards in the past three games, and Smith, a redshirt sophomore, has 10 receptions for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s always great to see Tim and Kris play well,” Snyder said. “They’re such great players and such good teammates. They work hard, and they’re playing great right now.”
Snyder has been a mentor to another wideout, true freshman Darius Jennings, who had a 53-yard touchdown catch in UVa’s Oct. 27 win over ACC rival Miami.
“That was awesome,” Snyder said. “It was so great to see him really break out that game.”
UVa has three regular-season games left. The first comes Saturday, when Virginia (3-2, 6-3) hosts Duke (1-4, 3-6) at 3 p.m. in an ACC clash at Scott Stadium.