Was UB quarterback Cole Snyder always a leader, a great teammate? Jehuu Caulcrick, who coached Snyder at Southwestern High, could tell you stories. Cole never missed a practice or workout. He came to the house to work on game plans with the coaches. He drove his teammates to be better. Come to think of it, he drove them everywhere.
“I remember we used to have 5 a.m. or 5:30 workouts,” Caulcrick recalled with a laugh. “Cole had this old beat-up Suburban. He would get up and drive around to pick kids up to bring them to practice. That shows leadership right there.
“He’s a coach’s dream.”
Snyder also played hockey in high school. He led Southwestern to a state title. Caulcrick, who starred at Clymer and Michigan State and played briefly in the NFL, said Cole would go to hockey practice at night and be back early the next morning for football, grabbing his buddies along the way.
“He had a little circuit he’d run after practice and drop everybody off,” said his father, Ron Snyder. “He’s always been that way, a team-first guy. That’s one of the things we’re most proud of, his relationships with coaches and the other kids he plays with.”
Snyder’s dream was to play major-college football. He told Caulcrick so when he sat down with his coach and parents to plan his future in ninth grade. He worked tirelessly, as his coach advised, and he realized his dream, earning a scholarship to Rutgers of the Big Ten after his senior year in 2018.
But after three years at Rutgers, Snyder knew it was time for a change. He cherished his time in New Jersey, where he was academic all-Big Ten. But he hadn’t gotten a real chance to win the starting QB job at Rutgers. The coach who brought him in had been fired. They recruited over him.
“It was definitely tough,” Snyder said Tuesday after practice. “I loved my experience there and I learned a lot. But at the end of the day, I wanted a new opportunity and a new start. That’s all I could ask for and that’s what I got here at Buffalo. I thank God every day for leading me in the right direction.”
That direction was back home to Western New York. Bulls head coach Mo Linguist is thankful for that. When starting QB Kyle Vantrease transferred last December, Linguist needed another quarterback. He also could use a mature player who would be a good fit for the family atmosphere he was building in year two.
“When we met with Coach, he told us his expectations for Cole,” Ron Snyder said. “My wife (Tammy) and I kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Cole’s exactly what he’s looking for. He embodies everything he’s talking about. A perfect match.”
Cole felt capable of leading UB the moment he arrived in January. Linguist was immediately struck by Snyder’s preparation and commitment. He noticed he always sat in the front row in meetings, totally engaged, taking notes and analyzing the schemes in the team’s no-huddle attack.
But first, he had to win the quarterback job in an open competition. Snyder won the job in camp, showing the athletic ability and passing acumen that made him a star at Southwestern.
When the Bulls started 0-3 for the first time since 2005, including a loss to Holy Cross, questions swirled around the program. Linguist insisted his team was evolving, that it was on the verge of turning the corner. But UB desperately needed to make a statement in the MAC opener last week at Eastern Michigan.
They made it in resounding fashion, beating EMU, 50-31, in the highest-scoring road performance in program history. The offense was sensational, scoring on its first nine possessions and piling up 498 total yards of offense, with 29 first downs.
Snyder said later that the MAC opener was “a breaking point.” He was a driving force, as always. He was 20-for-29 passing for two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for two TDs. Snyder became the first UB quarterback to pass for 260-plus yards in three straight games since Tyree Jackson in 2018. He’s 38th in the country in passing yards with 1,026.
“I definitely think it gives a level of respect when you go out there and make some plays,” Snyder said. But again, I couldn’t do it without my O-line and everybody around me.
“I felt really good about how the team handled it for the first three weeks after those tough losses. But you can only go so many weeks with losing before it starts to go south. It was a great job by the whole team. The offense played well, especially the offensive line. I thought the O line came alive this game. It was good to see that. Now we have to just keep stacking.”
It’s the league that truly matters. The Bulls try to get to 2-0 at home on Saturday against Miami of Ohio, which crushed the Bulls, 45-18, last November. The Redhawks are coming off a win at Northwestern last weekend in which they shut down a high-powered rushing attack from the Big Ten.
The UB offense, which is ninth in the nation in time of possession, will have its momentum put to the test. But they seem to have discovered the quarterback to lead them, perhaps for the next three seasons. Snyder, 22, is still technically a sophomore after redshirt and Covid seasons at Rutgers in 2019-20.
“Before he even gets on the field, you see a guy who’s wired the right way,” Linguist said. “Cole Snyder, his process is right. His daily approach is right. He can make plays. He’s a very humble young man, but he also has a great balance of confidence through his preparation. I think when the team sees him compete the way that he competes, it’s very natural to draw towards him because of who he is and how he operates.
“It’s a fine-tuned machine and you want to continue to make sure all the pieces around him are right. But the more he continues to perform and play very well in the moment, it’s only natural that the guys’ belief continues to go up.”
Caulcrick, who owns a staffing company in Detroit and does sideline reporting for Michigan State games, did not believe that Snyder was over his head in the Big Ten. He felt Cole wasn’t likely to get a true chance to showcase his talent at Rutgers.
“He and I had a chat and I told him, ‘If you want to just be on a team and say you played in the Big Ten, then stick with what you’re doing. But if your goal is to play college football at the Division I level, you have to figure it out.’
“So, he made that decision to transfer,” Caulcick said, “and I think it was the best for him to get an opportunity to prove himself that he didn’t get at Rutgers.”
Snyder is a competitor. He wanted to compete. But giving up on the Big Ten dream was tough for him and his family.
“It was bittersweet, for sure,” said Ron Snyder, who also played quarterback at Southwestern. “You never want your kids to leave. But to have the opportunity like that, to play on a national stage and go to a program like (Rutgers), how many kids in the country get to do that?”
Ron remembers the day Cole got the scholarship offer from Rutgers. They had attended camps at Rutgers and Pitt and were driving home on U.S. 79 when Cole got a call from Chris Ash, then the head coach at Rutgers. They pulled over at a rest stop and Cole walked in the building to be alone when he took the call.
“We were just elated,” Ron recalled. “We were all so excited. Everybody was laughing and crying. It was the greatest moment ever.”
It meant a lot for a kid from Lakewood to hit the big time. Football is a big deal in the Jamestown area. The legendary Fran Sirianni taught and coached at Southwestern for 45 years. His three sons all followed him into coaching: Jay Sirianni coached two state champions at Southwestern before Caulcrick took over in 2015. Mike Sirianni is the head coach at Washington & Jefferson. And Nick Sirianni, the youngest, is head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and might just be coaching in a Super Bowl come February — who knows, maybe against Buffalo.
Ron was a left-handed quarterback at Southwestern in the 1980s. He set records, most of which were later broken by Cole. He jokes that no one will ever break his record as the school’s first-ever 1,000-yard passer. He played college ball at Thiel.
The elder Snyder remembers the Sirianni boys hanging around as ball boys when he was a high school player for their dad’s Trojans.
“I’d stay after practice and play catch with them all the time,” Ron said. “Even during the game. If we weren’t playing or after halftime, I’d come over and play catch with them before we started the second half. Mike and Nick are still good friends. I talk to them, and they still remember that time.”
Ron tells Cole to pay attention to the young kids who hang around the field, idolizing their heroes.
“I told him, no matter what, take the time for the kids,” Ron said. “After practice, shake their hands, tell them thanks for coming. They’ll remember it the rest of their lives. They will. I have heroes that I’ll never forget, just because they took two seconds to pat me on the head or shake my hand, when everybody else walked by.”
Linguist, who is not lacking as a motivational speaker, talks about the need to stay “humble and hungry.” He didn’t need to remind Snyder, who has lived it since the ninth grade.
Ron said he and Tammy instilled that in their son from the start, to stay humble. He said they’re most proud of the way other parents and coaches talk about Cole’s character on and off the field, and how he’s above all a good teammate — and someone who remembers to thank God twice during an interview.
“I’ve got a great support system, which I’m super thankful for,” said Snyder, an economics major. “They support me in anything I want to do. My mom always told me when I was growing up, ‘I’ll give you the opportunity, but it’s up to you what you do with it.’ I could not be more thankful for them.”
The Snyders are a deeply religious family. They’re constantly reminding their son to give thanks to God for all his blessings. After the big win last Saturday in Ypsilanti, Cole came back out to meet with his family and exchange hugs and good wishes after meeting with the media.
“Before he went back down the tunnel, his mom stops him and says, ‘Hey, you know who to thank. Don’t forget Him,’” Ron said. “He said, ‘I got it, Mom. Already took care of it.’”
Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the News 4 team in 2020 after three decades as a sports columnist at The Buffalo News. See more of his work here.