Snow One Cool Customer

The 2004 season taught Nittany Lion BranDon Snow a valuable lesson: Namely, even a projected starter can find himself iced out of a job by injury. Now back at fullback, he is hoping for better luck in 2005.

When BranDon Snow envisioned walking on the field for Penn State's opener against Akron last year, he didn't anticipate needing the help of crutches.

After redshirting as a freshman and playing primarily on special teams in 2003, last year was supposed to be Snow's chance to make an impact on the field for the Nittany Lions' as the team's starting middle linebacker.

However, a fractured right foot suffered during a practice in August forced Snow to the sideline for most of the 2004 season.

“After surgery, you learn to accept it quick. You just rehab and the goal is to get back as soon as you can,” he said. “The hardest thing about it was that first game, walking into the stadium on crutches, knowing you can't be out there with your teammates.”

The USA Today and Parade high school All-American now seems to be slated as a starter once again - but this time, at fullback. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Snow was recruited as a fullback out of Newark High in Wilmington, Del., where the program went 47-1 and won four state championships while he was there. Two years ago, he backed up Sean McHugh, but he was asked to play linebacker last year. This January, Snow met with Joe Paterno, and they mutually decided that he would move back to fullback, which he had no problem with.

“I think I'm more comfortable at fullback,” Snow said. “Blocking is what I'm good at. That's something I've always been proud of and love doing. That's my passion.”

Snow added laughingly that he keeps a glimmer of hope alive that he'll see the ball every now and again. However, he doesn't care where he plays as long as he's on the field helping the Lions get wins. His high school football coach, Butch Simpson, said Snow has always been that type of player.

“He was a first-team All-American and gained less than 500 yards as a senior running back only because he was the ultimate team player,” said Simpson, who talks to Snow on the phone every Sunday. “The running backs who played behind him were All-State players during his three years at fullback. He just gave us himself. If there was anything he needed us for him to do, he graciously accepted his role.”

Simpson said Snow could have easily been a 2,000-yard rusher in high school, but the team needed his skills in other capacities. While he saw most of his time at fullback, Snow also saw action as a linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle in high school. Simpson, who went with Snow on recruiting trips to Penn State, Miami, Tennessee and Maryland, said he never heard his player say he didn't want to play a certain position.

“When you talk about such a lack of selfishness, you have a guy who is attractive in your offense, especially when it's someone who's not asking for the ball,” Simpson said.

It is probably unlikely that Snow will see the ball a lot this season, but he does appear to be the favorite to take over the starting fullback position left by Paul Jefferson. He said his time spent practicing as a linebacker can only help him on offense, as he now has a better understanding of defensive schemes the Lions' offense might face this year.

The other fullbacks in the mix are Matt Hahn, Dan Lawlor and Jed Hill. Adam Senk tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during spring practice and could miss the entire season. A couple weeks ago, when asked about Penn State's fullback situation, Paterno expressed some concern with Snow's ability to catch the football.

“I have seen BranDon Snow when he was younger,” Paterno said. “He wasn't a real good pass-receiver, and I told him that if he wants to play in the backfield, he has to catch the ball. He tells me that he has somebody throwing the ball everyday to him. I am anxious to see him in the spring.”

Projected starting quarterback Michael Robinson said Snow has been like a new man in drills.

“It's like at first, when he was at fullback [prior to 2004], the light was off,” Robinson said. “Now, somebody flipped on the switch. It's just totally night and day. He understands stuff now.”

Snow said he has been working hard on his receiving skills and has already seen results. He said after workouts when the team has player drills, he grabs whichever quarterback isn't drilling and practices running his routes and catching the football. As far as who will be the starting fullback for the team's opener against South Florida, he said he's as uncertain as everybody else.

“Nothing's guaranteed,” he said. “Last August put that in my mind. Everyone's subject to injury. I'll let you know Sept. 3 when we kick off.”


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