July 22, 2013

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Seated across the table from teammate Morgan Moses, whose bushy beard has sparked considerable conversation here, UVa defensive end Jake Snyder took in the scene Sunday afternoon at the annual gathering of ACC football players and coaches and media members who cover the league.

“It’s been a heck of an experience,” said Snyder, one of only eight seniors on the Cavaliers’ roster.

“It’s been very fun. We had a great opportunity last night to just be with the players. We had a couple great speakers come in and talk to us, and it’s been great just being around and listening to some of these guys. They’re all the best players on their teams, and that’s why it’s fun to see them all together and kind of let the guard down for a while. It’s not all about football.”

The 6-4, 270-pound Snyder is heading into his third season as a starter at Virginia. He led UVa’s defensive linemen in tackles last season, with 44, and was second on the team in sacks, with 2.5. Still, he’s not as well known around league as most of the other players who were invited to ACC Football Kickoff, including the 6-6, 335-pound Moses, one of the nation’s premier offensive tackles.

“I think a lot of these guys here are household names across the country, and certainly in the conference,” Snyder said, “and I don’t know that I’m to that status, and that’s fine with me. I wouldn’t expect that, because I haven’t done anything to deserve that. That’s another motivating thing this year: to try to get to that point and to put up the kind of numbers and to have the team success to get myself and other guys on the team to that level.”

Snyder, who redshirted as a freshman in 2009, graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences. To graduate in four years, he had to take a course during the spring semester — Elements of Hydrology — that met at 9 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Those also happened to be the weekday mornings UVa’s football team practiced in the spring. (The Cavaliers practiced on Saturdays, too). His professor allowed Snyder to miss class occasionally on Fridays — Snyder came back during office hours to make up the work — but practices on Mondays and Wednesdays were out.

“So I missed two days a week and I practiced two days a week,” Snyder recalled Sunday. “It wasn’t ideal, but at the same time it probably wasn’t the worst thing in the world for my body.”

In January, head coach Mike London hired a new defensive coordinator, Jon Tenuta, who installed a hyper-aggressive scheme. That made spring practices especially important, Snyder knows, but “Coach Tenuta was great about it. He understands that I’ve been playing the game for a long time, and I had a good understanding of the defense we had before, and there’s a lot of carryover from that. He was very understanding. We had a couple extra meetings to kind of go over some things, but he understands that I grasped the concepts off the bat pretty much.”

Snyder said he loves Tenuta’s defense, which differs from that of former coordinator Jim Reid in several ways.

“One of the main differences is [Tenuta] likes to dial up the pressure, and that’s something a defensive end loves,” Snyder said. “Linebackers love it too, and he’s going to get after the quarterback and create turnovers, and that makes it fun for us, to turn it up and get after it.”

Snyder added: “Not to get into the differences between this year and last year, but we might have been sitting back on a third-and-5 last year and trying to stop something, where we’re going to come after `em this year, and we’re going to be the aggressor. And that’s kind of the mindset we’ve taken all summer in the offseason, with our strength training. We want to be the aggressor. We want to come out and throw the first punch, and we want to get after you early.”

The defensive meetings that Tenuta runs?

“They’re intense. They’re colorful,” Snyder said, smiling. “Nobody’s late, and by late I mean nobody’s five minutes early. Everybody’s 10 minutes early. He doesn’t mess around in there. He gets to the point, and his main point is: just perform. It’s all about performance. If you’re doing the right thing, it’s going to be a lot of fun. If you’re not doing the right thing, he’s going to let you know in a hurry.”

In May, reflecting on spring ball, Tenuta said the defense ran noticeably better on the days Snyder was able to practice. That doesn’t surprise Evan Marcus, Virginia’s strength and conditioning coach for football.

“That’s the same thing in here,” Marcus said last week in the McCue Center weight room. “Jake is so on top of everything, and nothing gets by him. He’s the first one to talk to the other players when they step out of line. That’s just who he is, and it’s not phony, it’s not fake, it’s not forced. It’s just who Jake is.”

Snyder, of course, is the second member of his family to play football at UVa. Jake’s older brother, Matt, was a wideout whose final season as a Cavalier was 2011. (The third Snyder brother, Will, a talented musician, is heading into his third year as a student at the University.) All three brothers graduated from Deep Run High in the Richmond area.

“Just a great family,” Marcus said. “It has to start with the parents. You know they did an outstanding job, because I’ve had two of [their sons], and both of them are just tremendous kids.”

In a phone interview last week, Matt said the brothers “wouldn’t be the men we are today if it wasn’t for our parents. Mom and Dad raised us so you go out and find what you want, and then you work for it. Nobody’s going to give it to you, and you wouldn’t want that anyway.”

Matt came to UVa as a walk-on and eventually earned a scholarship. Jake was a heralded recruit coming of high school, but complacency has never been a problem for him.

“Here’s a kid who’s a senior and has made improvements in everything: his squat, his power clean, his bench press,” Marcus said. “Everything has gone up. He’s still developing, he’s still getting better, he still takes pride in getting better.

“That’s the type of kid you’d think the University of Virginia would get. He’s smart, he’s tough, he’s aggressive, and he gets better. That’s what this university thrives on.”

Matt, who’s now working in the Washington-Baltimore area, said Jake “never changed one bit from the guy he was growing up. He’s always been an incredible worker. Just a grinder. Steady. That has not changed at all. Just watching him grow as a player, getting more confident and more comfortable, that’s the only way he’s changed.”

Jake, who joked about the gray hairs starting to show on his head, hopes to be preparing for his rookie season in the NFL at this time next year.

“It’s something that’s been a dream of mine for a long time,” he said. “And I understand the odds, and I understand that I’m going to have to have a big season, and that type of thing, but I’m just planning on going out there and giving my best shot every week, trying to win games, and hopefully everything else will take care of itself.”

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