By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- In the London household in Hampton, football ruled. The oldest son, Mike, went on to play at the University of Richmond; the middle son, Gary, at East Carolina; the youngest son, Paul, at the University of Virginia.
Mike London never played organized football with Gary or Paul, but the brothers were close. And so UVa's second-year coach appreciates the special bond between Matt and Jake Snyder.
"You get to run through a tunnel and play college football and have some good experiences together," London said. "There ain't nothing better than that."
At Deep Run High School in western Henrico County, Matt and Jake were football teammates for one season, in 2006. The brothers were reunited three years later at UVa, where Matt had enrolled as a recruited walk-on in 2007.
Now a 6-5, 215-pound fifth-year senior, Matt starts at wide receiver for Virginia (2-2), which hosts Idaho (1-3) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Scott Stadium. He's third on the team in receiving with 15 catches for 148 yards.
Matt earned his bachelor's in foreign affairs in May -- he minored in Spanish -- and is now in a master's program in the Curry School of Education.
Jake, a 6-4, 275-pound redshirt sophomore, starts at defensive end and majors in environmental science. This is the last season the brothers will play together at UVa, and they're savoring the experience.
"Being on a football team in general is awesome," Jake, 20, said this week. "You have all your brothers on the team. That's a phrase that's commonly used, and you really develop close relationships with everybody, and then having your brother on the team, who you have already have a strong relationship with, makes that even better. It's really exciting out there. I come off the field after a drive and I'm watching the offense go and I see Matt make a catch, and it's that much better."
In 2006, the Snyders helped Deep Run, whose coach then was former UVa player Lenny Pritchard, win the Central Region, Division 5 title. In the championship game, against a Matoaca team whose best player was wideout Kris Burd, now a UVa standout, Deep Run trailed 35-7 at halftime. The Wildcats rallied to win 41-38 in overtime.
"That team was so good, and Jake was on that team, and he was a big part of it, so that was just a special year," Matt, 22, recalled. "Then we played baseball together [in the spring of 2007]. It made it tough to go off to school, but it made it a lot more fun to be able to play together here. I've really enjoyed it."
The third Snyder brother is also on Grounds. Will played football at Deep Run, too, and could have continued his career at a Division III school. He was more interested in pursuing a degree at UVa, where he's a first-year student.
"We see him a decent amount," Jake said. "We want to kind of let him do his own thing, make his own friends and pave his own path, but we look out for him, too, and we'll meet him for dinner every now and then and make sure his classes are going OK."
Will said: "It's been great. They're the best brothers I could ever ask for. It's definitely made coming here a lot easier and made the transition to college a lot easier."
Growing up, the Snyder boys "were normal," the oldest said. Then he corrected himself. "Actually I don't think we were normal brothers," Matt said. "We got along pretty well."
Jake said: "We fought every now and then, but more often than not we were playing together, not fighting. It was always a competitive thing, but we didn't hate each other."
The brothers have UVa alumni in their extended family, and Matt, Jake and Will regularly attended football games at Scott Stadium when they were growing up.
"We just loved watching football," Matt said. "We would always root for UVa. I never remember hating [Virginia] Tech, but I never liked them."
Now, on game day, Will sits with his parents at Scott Stadium. They watch Nos. 90 and 14 especially closely.
"I get pretty anxious," Will said with a laugh, "and watching the game with my mom isn't very fun. She gets nervous. But I love football, and I love watching Matt and Jake play. It's been great for me."
To call Matt a late bloomer athletically would be an understatement. As a ninth-grader, he was maybe "5-8, 135 pounds," Matt recalled. "I wasn't built like this when I was getting recruited. I was a little smaller. I've still been growing through college."
As a Deep Run senior, Matt caught 65 passes for 1,009 yards and was named to the All-Group AAA second team. Division I programs were not impressed.
"It wasn't even that I was not recruited," Matt said. "People just flat out said they didn't want me. Richmond, JMU and William and Mary wouldn't even let me walk on. It was a slap. Now, I don't care, it really worked for the best, but I was a little confused then. I was like, 'I know I'm not a blazer, but I think I can play.' "
Division III schools recruited him, Matt said, but he wanted to attend UVa, even if it meant giving up his favorite sport. "Honestly, if I got in here, I wasn't going to put football over school," he said. "This is such a great university and a great opportunity to go to school."
He applied to UVa and was accepted. The news got better for Matt. Mike Groh, then one of the Cavaliers' assistant coaches, invited him to join the team as a walk-on. It didn't hurt, Matt acknowledges, that Jake had emerged as a major target for the Wahoos.
"I probably owe him for being here," Matt said, smiling. "He's the reason I even got talked to. Mike Groh was in the school talking to Jake and [current Virginia Tech player Antone] Exum, and I just popped in the room.
"Honestly, I didn't take offense to it. You get tired of people saying no to you, but in no way was I jealous of Jake. He deserves everything he's gotten, and he's worked for everything he's gotten."
Jake eventually landed scholarship offers from such schools as Ohio State, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Colorado and Purdue, "but I was pretty much set on coming here," he said. "It was a pretty easy choice."
Matt's role in the program has steadily increased. He redshirted in 2007 and did not get on the field in '08. As a redshirt sophomore, however, he appeared in all 12 games -- mostly on special teams -- and earned his first letter. After the 2009 season, Virginia dismissed Al Groh as head coach and hired London, whom Matt quickly won over with his work ethic.
Before the 2010 season, London put him on scholarship, and Matt rewarded the coaches' faith in him by catching 30 passes for 393 yards last year. He reached another milestone this spring when the coaching staff named him a team captain.
To London, Matt's journey is an "incredible story of perseverance ... People say, 'You're not good enough, you're not fast enough,' whatever it is, but he kept his mouth closed, worked hard, and the [other UVa] players saw an example of what hard work, discipline, dedication look like."
Jake said: "It's been unbelievable. UVa gave him a shot, and we were so proud that he made the team, and ever since Day One he's been working his butt off. That's just the way he is. That's the way he's always been. He never gives up."
That Jake arrived at UVa on scholarship never bothered Matt. "He was always really proud of me," said Jake, who redshirted in 2009. "Even in high school when schools started coming in and looking at me, he was very proud of me. We're proud of each other. And I knew what he was capable of, whether he had the scholarship for it or not. I knew."
Matt and Jake live with teammates Connor McCartin, Tucker Windle, Paul Freedman, Luke Bowanko, Ross Metheny, Billy Skrobacz and Sean Cascarano. Skrobacz is a Deep Run graduate, as is another UVa player, offensive guard Conner Davis.
Connor McCartin, who also has a brother on the team, Kyle, recently had to give up football because of lingering effects from a concussion. The Snyders understands better than most the emotions Kyle is dealing with.
"I think to watch any of your family members not be able to do something they love like that, it's tough to watch, it's tough to see," Matt said.
UVa's head coach, too, understands the unique relationship between brothers who are also teammates.
"You see your brother every day, but you also know the hopes, dreams and aspirations that he has, and you want to see him having success," London said. "When he plays well, you're playing well, basically. When he's not playing well, you feel for him. When he's not having a good day, then you're not having a good day. It's just one of those things that as a sibling you feel."
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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