Fantasy football fanatics know just how powerful Willie Snead can be to a lineup, an insight that was further cemented in Week 1 of the 2016 NFL season when the talented hands man caught 9 of 9 targets for 172 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. Granted, the entire Saints offense had a glamorous week (Drew Brees with four touchdowns and 423 passing yards; Brandin Cooks with 6 receptions for 143 yards and two touchdowns), but Snead remains perhaps the most ceiling-less. The sky is the limit for the 23-year-old former Ball State Cardinals standout.
Most interestingly, however, is Snead’s climb to stardom. Many will assume it was a smooth ride for the athletically gifted receiver, but on the contrary Snead battled real adversity since his days at Ball State like a true cinderella story. Per the News-Sentinal’s Tom Davis..
Snead’s legacy with the Cardinals got off to an auspicious start, as the Ball State coach that he had committed to play for (Stan Parrish) got fired before Snead could even sign with the program. However, undaunted, he enrolled after graduating from high school early and taking part in the 2011 spring football practices under new coach Pete Lembo.
Snead opened eyes with 180 yards receiving in his very first start and the rest was history with the Cardinals, as he finished as one of the program’s all-time leaders in receptions and yards, despite leaving for the NFL – or so he thought – after his junior season.
The 5-foot-11 Snead went undrafted and was cut after a training camp stint with the Cleveland Browns. Without a football job and with no college degree, Snead tried out with the New York Giants and was later signed to the practice squad by the Carolina Panthers, before landing with the Saints’ practice squad, whom he had a connection with: Neu.
With Neu being a former Ball State quarterback, and then serving as the Saints’ quarterbacks coach, he at least had a familiarity with Snead, who proved himself in training camp, as well as the 2015 regular season as a top-flight pass-catcher.
“Just to see the relationship that he has with (New Orleans quarterback) Drew Brees,” Neu said, “to see that pay off for (Snead), it’s exciting to see that.”
Neu made a point to mention Snead at his initial press conference after being hired last January to replace Lembo, and specifically talked about how he had told the receiver to get back to Muncie and finish his coursework.
And Snead did.
While many pro athletes spend their off-seasons in warm-weather locales “chilling,” Snead was definitely doing so, but that was more due to the winter weather in Muncie, where he had returned to finish his degree in sport administration. That fortitude is at the forefront of why Neu wanted to honor Snead.
“He deserves to be on that graphic and in our building,” Neu said. “He embodies all of those qualities that you look for. I tell all of our kids right now ‘You are a Cardinal because you are part of our program. But by the time you graduate, you will be a True Cardinal, because of all of those qualities that make up a True Cardinal. You will have all of those by the time you leave here with your degree and a championship.’
“Willie Snead is a great representative of our program and our university. We couldn’t be more proud of him. Willie is a stud and a class act.”
Those are the stories we live for in football. Forget the generational Mannings, the five-star recruits, the 20-year-old experiments (talking about you, Amobi Okoye). It’s the hard-work-pays-off stories of grit, sweat, and determination that show us the good in the world.
Keep it up, Willie. We’re rooting for you.. just not this Sunday against New York.