HARRISONBURG – You could say that James Madison defensive lineman Tyler Snow is an expert at wrestling with 300-pounders. But that expertise isn’t just limited to humans.
Snow, a redshirt junior, is also an avid shark fisherman. Just last summer, he and his brother went fishing off the coast of Florida and caught a nine-foot, 350-pound tiger shark.
“It’s pretty exhilarating to have a 300-pound fish on there – that’s pretty freakin’ scary,” Snow said, explaining why shark-fishing is one of his hobbies.
Sure sounds frightening. But Snow says snagging a 300-pound shark is easier than taking on a 300-pound offensive lineman because, when it comes to fishing, “we’ve got it down to a science.”
He must be a pretty good fisherman, then – because he’s an awfully good football player.
The 6-foot-3, 270-pound redshirt junior has become the Dukes’ most versatile defensive lineman, moving from tackle to end at the whim of the coaches this season after starting his college career at linebacker. He’s the D-line leader in tackles (31), he’s second in tackles for loss (five) and he leads the team in quarterback hurries (six).
Snow is a natural end, but has had to move inside for occasional snaps due to both injuries and a lack of production at tackle. He still primarily plays end, but coach Mickey Matthews said the Dukes move him to tackle in passing situations because they lack pass-rushing depth inside.
Part of what makes Snow so versatile, defensive line coach Isai Bradshaw said, is that – just like when he’s fishing for sharks – he’s a very cerebral player.
“Speed is not his top asset, but he makes a lot of plays because he’s so smart,” Bradshaw said. “You’ve got a guy in your room that understands football and understands what’s going on. If you’re not as fast, you can make up for it because you know what’s going on.
“He understands what’s going on in our room at every single position. You don’t find that a lot with a lot of players.”
It also didn’t help Snow’s recruiting that, according to Matthews, there aren’t exactly a lot of recruiting sharks in the water around William Byrd High School.
Snow, a Vinton native, graduated from William Byrd as the all-time leading tackler while earning all-state honors at linebacker. But, when told by defensive coordinator Kyle Gillenwater – who’s responsible for recruiting the Roanoke area for the Dukes – that there was a prospect at Byrd, Matthews wasn’t exactly convinced.
“I personally recruited the Roanoke area [as an assistant coach] for Marshall and Georgia, so I knew a lot about that area and the history of it,” Matthews said. “I looked at Kyle and I said, ‘Byrd has not had a football prospect since Eisenhower was president.’”
But when Matthews watched the film of Snow as a 210-pound high-school linebacker, he said he was plenty impressed. Matthews also got a nice reference from Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, even though Beamer didn’t offer Snow a scholarship.
“Coach Beamer told me, ‘If I could take 20 guys, I’d take him tomorrow,’” Matthews said, referring to Tech’s scholarship restrictions the Hokies had in that season’s recruiting class.
“He could have played in the ACC. We were thrilled. I don’t know if many people went by Byrd, I don’t know that, but I thought he had ACC ability. I think the career he’s having here now is bearing that out.”
His production started early. After redshirting his freshman year – and beefing up from 210 to about 250, he said, making it apparent that defensive end would be his natural position – Snow has played in all 33 games since, starting 31 of them. Even his freshman year, he bounced from end to tackle occasionally.
But he’s never done it more than this year, and Matthews said another 15 pounds he put on this winter is a big reason why.
Snow is strong against both the pass and the run, and is a big reason why the Dukes (7-2 overall, 5-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association) allow a CAA-low 116.1 rushing yards per game. He’ll play an especially important role this Saturday against Villanova, as any end would playing against the Wildcats’ option-based offense.
That’s why, Matthews said, Snow will play mostly end this weekend – because the Dukes put him where they need him.
“He’s our best defensive lineman, so we’ve tried to put him in a position to make as many plays as he can to help us,” Matthews said.
Snow will get his undergraduate degree in history and secondary education this fall, but said he’ll enroll in graduate school in the spring and stick around for a fifth year of football.
As brutal as football is, it’s nothing compared to shark fishing. Snow said he gets on a tiny, open-ocean kayak, paddles out about 500 yards, dumps out a gallon of blood, a block of frozen bait and a foot-long tuna, and paddles back to shore – hoping all the while that the shark will wait until he reaches the shore before following the blood trail left behind the boat.
Then, he waits for a shark to come close enough to reel it in – and then the fight’s just begun. Snow said it took 62 minutes to snag his prized tiger shark.
“It’s pretty scary the first time you do it,” he said, though he added, “it’s not like [the movie] ‘Jaws.’”
So, he’ll just keep on grappling with sharks – and other 300-pound animals.