Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
Virginia walk-on wide receiver Matt Snyder won’t believe it until he sees it. As in, when he’s on the field Saturday. And William & Mary is lined up across from him. And the whistle has blown.
Only then is his place in the starting lineup official.
Snyder, who joined the team as a walk-on in 2007 and didn’t play in any games last year, didn’t even know he was in the starting lineup for the season opener until Wednesday morning, when a few reporters on a teleconference informed him of it.
“I actually wasn’t aware of that,” he said with a chuckle. “If that’s what it says, that’s great. Nothing is certain until that whistle blows at 6 o’clock, but I’m sure whoever is starting at receiver, whether it be myself or any of the other receivers, I’m sure they’re going to play well and play hard.
“I just tried to keep my nose to the grindstone and keep working and not really worry about where I was or where I wasn’t on the depth chart. Until Saturday, nothing is certain. If I get in the game on Saturday, I’ll be very pleased and feel very blessed. If not, I’ll keep working and go from there.”
Those are modest words from a redshirt sophomore who not only didn’t receive any scholarship offers from FBS schools, but also wasn’t even offered a chance to walk on at any Division I-AA schools. The knock on him was that he wasn’t fast enough, and even now Snyder still doubts his speed, but he’s grateful to Virginia for giving him a chance.
“You know, it feels good to say it now, it didn’t feel so good back then, but I had no scholarship offers,” he said. “… I’m so gracious to Virginia for giving me this opportunity. Like any walk-on, I came here with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder, trying to prove to people I could actually play. It’s been a little bit of motivation."
And it’s obviously paid off.
Virginia enters this season looking for players who can help replace their top five pass catchers a year ago. Coach Al Groh said Snyder had an “excellent camp,” and Snyder was listed as a starter for Saturday, along with Jared Green. Snyder had an impressive spring game, and is expected to also contribute on special teams. Coach Al Groh said he's watched Snyder progress over the past two years.
"Right from the start he was a player that made constant improvement," Groh said. "Every job that he was given, starting with the lowest level job on the scout team when he was a true freshman, progressing through that, he takes maximum advantage of every opportunity to take information, to get coaching, to move forward with what he's doing. He really epitomizes the attitude that real football players have."
Snyder, who grew up in Glen Allen, Va., and was a receiver at Deep Run High School for coach Lenny Pritchard, who lettered at Virginia in 1988. He used to go to Virginia games with his parents and brothers, Jake and Will.
“I was in the stands like, ‘Wow,’ and looking at those guys running out of the tunnel,” he said. “It was always a dream of mine. Not even a goal, but a dream. Through the whole recruiting process, I wasn’t getting recruited by anybody, was confused a little bit. And Mike Groh really came in and gave me that opportunity. He reached out when no one else was. You read all these stories about walk-ons becoming starters, whether it’s at Virginia or any school, that’s motivation for any kid that doesn’t really get any scholarship offers or get many looks at the collegiate level.”
And now Snyder's story can add to that motivation.