ANNAPOLIS — Brandon Turner’s freshman season at Navy was five minutes from concluding. The Midshipmen were demolishing Missouri in the Texas Bowl, and Turner’s day (as well as teammate Bo Snelson‘s) effectively would end with kickoff coverage after Navy’s last touchdown.
“All the sudden I got hit — it was almost like I got cut blocked — by Bo,” Turner recalled. “I felt like my knee was going to fall off, and it just shows you he’s going 100 miles an hour at the end of the game. He picks me up and is like ‘Hey, this is on national TV. Your daddy’s watching. You’d better get up.’ “
Little wonder Snelson would be elected Navy’s offensive captain for his senior season more than two years later. One of the milestones of his final season with the Mids comes Saturday, when the program completes its four-week spring session with a scrimmage at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
This was the first time coach Ken Niumatalolo opted to reveal the voting of the captaincy voting in February. It was an important spring for the Mids, the first time in nine years they would be coming off a losing record. Niumatalolo hoped the captains would promptly establish themselves to help Navy rebound from a 5-7 season.
And so there was Snelson during a wind-swept practice last month, taking time during the team’s water break to individually exhort his offensive teammates to push through the final hour of the session.
Then he switched fields and offered similar one-on-one messages to the defensive players. Any nudge toward improvement and avoiding the same fate as a year ago - no bowl game, no Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy - was worth it.
“You want to remember those things, but at the same time you want to move forward,” Snelson said. “You can’t dwell on things in the past so much that they make you stagnant. We’re definitely going to learn from those things.”
A family affair
Navy slotbacks coach Danny O’Rourke made his way to the Houston suburbs in the spring of 2008 for a recruiting trip. While there, he asked the coach at Pasadena Memorial about Snelson.
He’s not tall, came the reply, a spot-on assessment of a player listed at 5-foot-7 today.
“I always had to be one of the hardest workers because if anybody was going to look at me, then they had to see I was doing the exact same thing because that’s what my dad expected of me,” Bo Snelson said.
And when it was through, father and son savored four years together, with shared meals and rides to school and everything else in addition to practice.
“One of the reasons I gravitated toward football so much was because when I was younger, he was gone with the football team,” Bo Snelson said. “So I correlated in my mind playing football with spending time with my dad. Those four years in my high school, I got to spend every day with my dad.”
He learned plenty about football while playing for his dad. But something else was forged along the way: how to channel his competitiveness in the right direction.
What wasn’t a surprise was where his boisterousness originated from.
“I’m kind of a fire-and-brimstone guy,, and I coach with a lot of passion and like to have fun,” John Snelson said. “He definitely saw that model, and he has just taken it to another level.”
He just happens to be small for a Division I player.
He’s also quick and smart and Texas tough, traits O’Rourke took away from his spring travel four years ago.
“He’s got so many redeeming qualities you can’t measure with an eye test,” O’Rourke said. “We’re not an amusement park. You don’t have to be a certain height to be a good football player. He just brings a lot to the table. If everybody was like him, we probably wouldn’t lose any games - just with his toughness and work ethic and other things you have to have to be a good football player.”
Captaining a turnaround
In Turner’s mind, there wasn’t much question who would serve as Navy’s offensive captain next season. Nor with the rest of his teammates, who overwhelmingly voted him into the position.
For Snelson, it still was a surprise.
“I just said, ‘You have won lots of awards, but you’re going to find out this is the best one ever,’ ” John Snelson said.
It was striking in part because Bo Snelson, while a regular on special teams early in his career, never has started a game. Navy’s captains last year (Alexander Teich and Jabaree Tuani) entered the season with a combined 48 career starts. The year before, Ricky Dobbs and Wyatt Middleton owned a combined 50 starts. Navy’s other captain this year, linebacker Brye French, has made only nine starts - all coming last season.
“I do not think I’m the best leader on this football team,” Snelson said. “There’s no way, not by a long shot, that I’m the best athlete on this football team. There are guys in the senior class and the underclass that command more respect than me in the locker room. I told them ‘You guys elected us, so if you feel like something needs to be done, come talk to us.’ “
Whatever the message, he will back it up with his own approach. He always has.
“What you see is what you get,” Niumatalolo said. “That’s not a phony deal. He’s a fiery, passionate kid. He gets on guys hard, but it’s easy for guys to listen to him because he’s not slacking. He’s working as hard as anybody on our team. His leadership has been unbelievable.”