Football: New Cajuns kicker Snyder didn't need a visit to pick UL
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 12, 2020
For new Ragin’ Cajuns kicker Nate Snyder, who was on hand when UL opened its preseason camp last Friday, the recruiting process was nothing like the old days.
Consistent with so much that’s happening in 2020, it almost all took place over the Internet.
From beginning to end.
Snyder spent the past four seasons at Indiana, where he redshirted as a freshman in 2016, was injured and out in 2017 and ’18, and spent all of 2019 as the Hoosiers’ primary kickoff specialist.
Anxious to add handling field goals and PATs to his resume in his final season of college football, but knowing he probably could not do that at Indiana, Snyder put his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal.
Within a couple days, a love connection was made between the Cajuns and the kicker.
“I went in the portal,” Snyder said, “and they followed me on Twitter, and I talked to them on Twitter.
“They were one of the first schools that contacted me when I was in the portal.”
That was in the spring.
But because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that according to Johns Hopkins University has infected more than 5 million and killed more than 163,000 in the United States alone, the graduate transfer could not travel to UL for a look-see before committing to sign a scholarship agreement with the Cajuns.
He instead took a virtual tour.
“Yeah, it would have been great to get down there and get a visit first,” Snyder said.
Other teams were interested too.
“There were other schools I was more familiar with that were coming after me that I didn’t even talk to,” he said.
Power 5 programs Northwestern, Minnesota and Mississippi State all reached out, according to Snyder, and so did a couple other Sun Belt Conference teams in addition to UL.
But Snyder had seen, and heard, enough to make his decision without setting foot in Lafayette first. He committed in late March.
“I was pretty certain of Louisiana,” he said. “Once I got on the phone with them, I felt real good about it.”
A FISHING AND HUNTING GUY
What gave the Cajuns similar confidence to turn to Snyder sight unseen?
“Well, first off, he’s a very mature guy,” said first-year UL special teams coordinator Robbie Discher, a former special teams coordinator as a graduate assistant at Oklahoma State who spent the past four seasons coaching tight ends and special teams at Toledo of the MAC.
“You know, he’s not ever gonna get too high or too low. And I think that’s one of the things you’ve got to look for when recruiting specialists.
“I mean, you guys know there’s a persona out there that all kickers, punters, snapper are all weird,” Discher added. “And some of them are. But you want to recruit the guys that can fit in with the rest of the program … and he’s one of those guys.”
Snyder had no prior relationships with any of the Cajuns’ coaches, but said he “heard really great things about the staff.”
The idea of moving to a sportsman’s paradise like Louisiana is known to be – it’s printed right on the license plate – was intriguing too.
Snyder, after all, is big into hunting and fishing.
“From my understanding,” the kicker said shortly after committing, “down in Lafayette that’s kind of a big thing down there.
“I think, knowing myself, it’s an area I really would like to be, just based off of my understanding of the culture.”
Mostly, though, it’s about the football.
Snyder broke an ankle his second year at IU, costing him two seasons and keeping him from contending for the No. 1 field goal and extra points job.
Because by the time he was healthy enough to play, 2019 Lou Groza Award Logan Justus was entrenched as Indiana’s No. 1.
The Hoosiers’ kicking duties were split, so Snyder focused on kickoffs and won the kickoff job while keeping his toe in everything else there.
He was also a reserve punter, reserve holder and even a reserve long-snapper.
“I did it all,” said Snyder, who jokingly agreed he’d be just fine snapping to himself on kicks if he could just figure out how.
'A REALLY STRONG LEG'
The opportunity was open for Snyder to remain at Indiana on scholarship and handle kickoffs for one more season, but with redshirt sophomore Charles Campbell – a former U.S. Army high school All-American – in line to take over PATs and field goals, Snyder went into the portal.
He sought a place where he could be more than just a kickoff specialist and found it at UL.
“They said I’ll have an opportunity to come in and compete on field goals and kickoffs,” said Snyder, a product of Center Grove High in Greenwood, Indiana.
“They’re in a position where they feel they’re gonna have a real solid team, and to ensure that they want to have good specialists – as good as they can have.”
So Snyder – who received a degree in criminal justice from Indiana in 2019 – completed his final few post-bachelor’s classes online at IU because of the coronavirus crisis.
Not surprisingly, he didn’t mind doing it that way.
“I like it,” Snyder, now pursuing an MBA with a concentration in finance at UL, said of the virtual learning avenue. “I know a lot of people don’t, but I like it.”
Turning to a grad transfer kicker is nothing new for UL coach Billy Napier, whose Cajuns return starting quarterback Levi Lewis and standout running backs Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas from a team than went 11-3 and beat Miami (Ohio) in last season’s LendingTree Bowl.
Lafayette High product Stevie Artigue, a fifth-year senior last season, was a four-year starter for UL.
But when Artigue was out in 2018 following knee surgery, Napier signed Kyle Pfau – a former backup kicker who played sparingly for the Sooners – to handle things during the coach’s first season with the program.
Pfau responded, making 15 of 18 field goal attempts and 54 of 55 PATs while also handling kickoffs in his lone season as a Cajun.
So with Artigue gone now, add Snyder to a UL roster that returns Texan Kenneth Almendares (who handled kickoffs last season) but also loses redshirt freshman walk-on Grant Paulette (now at FCS member Austin Peay in Tennessee).
The Cajuns also added Thomas Leo, an ex-Florida International backup punter who also kicks.
“That’s something a lot of people don’t want to talk about,” Napier said of having to replace Artigue, “but I think that’s gonna be a big part (of preseason camp), to see Nate Snyder and what kind of impact he can have on our team.”
“I think he’s got a good mindset. He’s obviously a really talented kid,” Discher added. “You just watch the film of his kickoffs last year, he puts it up in the air for a long time. He’s got a really strong leg.”
Snyder – who joined UL for workouts earlier this summer – also sent the Cajuns a cutup of film showing him kicking field goals in practice last season, and Discher liked what he saw.
“I know practice is different than a game,” the coordinator said, “but he can certainly do it.
“And from what I’ve seen so far, he’s a very talented kid. He works really hard at it. His attention to detail is really good. Just because he wasn’t the guy (at Indiana) doesn’t mean he can’t be really good.
“You know, sometimes the nature of that position is just one guy is playing,” Discher added. “If you’re the backup kicker, you’re probably playing zero. It doesn’t mean he’s not talented.”