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Tyler Snead can pretty much guarantee he will be the smallest man on the football field each time he laces up his cleats on game day.
But that size hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of East Carolina’s most productive players early in his college career.
The former Raleigh Millbrook High School product and redshirt freshman is listed by ECU at 5-foot-7 (but the naked eye says he’s probably not even that tall), and he weighs in at less than 170 pounds. But his hands are sure, and his feet are some of the quickest on the team.
Just ask SMU. Snead stung the Mustangs this past Saturday at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas for 19 catches, 240 yards and three touchdowns. The little man was a one-man wrecking crew at times for the Pirates in the 59-51 loss to the 23rd-ranked Mustangs, dazzling with yards after the catch, over-the-shoulder grabs, and his speed in the open field against seemingly helpless defenders.
Snead was named The American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week following the dominant showing.
“He is what you want in a player,” ECU coach Mike Houston said. “The toughness. The competitiveness, to go along with the ability to make plays. The plays were there to be made, and he made them. He’s improved and been a solid guy all season long, and he just continues to develop. The award is nice and all, but I promise you he’d rather have the win. He’s a team guy and an important part of our program.”
But Snead was almost never a part of East Carolina’s football team. Despite a great career at Millbrook, he wasn’t offered any scholarships out of high school. The Pirates didn’t notice him until former ECU offensive coordinator Tony Petersen went to go see then-offensive line commitment and fellow Millbrook teammate Donovan Noel in person one Friday night.
Snead had a big performance that evening and caught Petersen’s eye, and the Pirates elected to offer the Raleigh native a preferred walk-on slot at ECU.
“He came to watch Donovan and I ended up having a pretty good game, and that’s when he noticed me,” Snead said.
While many expected Snead to redshirt his first year on campus like most preferred walk-on receivers, that notion started to hang in the balance once the receiver stepped on the field and began making plays.
His midseason college debut against Memphis resulted in four grabs for 50 yards and his first collegiate touchdown. He followed that up with a 124-yard performance at Tulane, and then a three-touchdown outing versus Connecticut at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in the final home game of the year. After Snead saw action for a fourth game at Cincinnati, acting head coach David Blackwell elected to hold Snead out of the season finale at N.C. State to preserve his redshirt and an extra year of eligibility.
He finished the 2018 season with 15 catches for 236 yards and four touchdowns. And after his monster performance at SMU, Snead ranks second on the team this season with 43 catches for 578 receiving yards, and he has an ECU-best five receiving touchdowns. He also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against USF earlier this season.
“Tyler’s been solid for us all year and he certainly was a guy we felt like was going to be a contributor for us coming into the season,” Houston said. “But you look at the game against SMU and you look at the plays he made — now he’s always a reliable guy and in our passing game does a great job of finding those windows — but the big plays were a combination of a lot of things and it shows his playmaking ability.”
Snead had high expectations for himself coming out of high school, and a chip on his shoulder to prove some people wrong for not offering a scholarship, but even he likely couldn’t have predicted this type of success so quickly.
“You always believe in your ability, but then reality hits and it’s kind of like, ‘Woah,’” said Snead, who was awarded a full scholarship this past offseason. “But the main thing is keeping your mentality and not getting caught up in all of that.”
Despite the increased production, Snead still hears plenty of trash talk on the other side about his size from fellow Division I players who tower over him. That’s something that will likely continue through the rest of his time in Greenville, and the redshirt freshman wide receiver is just fine with that.
“There’s definitely a lot of that, but it’s something you’ve got to deal with it. It’s part of it,” Snead said. “With me being as little as I am, I’ve got to play as hard as I can to match their intensity. The talk just gets me going even more.”
FIRST LEAGUE WIN ELUSIVE
For the second straight week as a 20-point underdog to a Top 25 American Athletic Conference foe, East Carolina outgained its opponent and made the other side sweat, only to lose in gut-wrenching fashion.
The Pirates racked up 644 total yards of offense in the 59-51 loss at SMU this past Saturday, Nov. 9, following their 46-43 loss to Cincinnati with an all-too-familiar finish.
ECU scored on every offensive possession of the second half, but a key fourth-and-20 conversion by SMU that resulted in a touchdown, and a fumbled kickoff return on the ensuing change of possession left the Pirates wondering what could have been.
Despite the strong performance offensively, the Pirates dropped their fifth straight game and are now 3-7 overall and 0-6 in the first year of the Houston era. East Carolina is currently enjoying its second bye week of the season before taking on Connecticut on Nov. 23.
“Here’s the thing. They want to win,” Houston said. “They’ve had enough of this, ‘I’m close,’ stuff. We went through the lumps there early in the season. Learning how to compete. They’re competing and competing at a high level. Now we need to finish games and get wins. That’s where we’re at right now.”
DON’T OVERLOOK UCONN
As the Pirates hunt for their first AAC win of 2019, they will do so as the likely favorite when they head to Connecticut next weekend.
It will mark the first time the Pirates have been favored in league play all year. ECU beat Connecticut all three years of the Scottie Montgomery era, and Randy Edsall’s team has managed just a 2-8 overall mark and an 0-6 record in league action this season. Unlike the Pirates, UConn hasn’t been competitive in many games at all, including a 48-3 loss at Cincinnati this past weekend.
“We’ve lost five straight games,” Houston said. “We can’t take anybody for granted. We wish it was game week, to be honest. With the way we played coming out Saturday, I wish we played this Saturday. It’s a big ball game for our program. It’s on the road. It’s a league game. You’ve got to show up every single week. Everybody in this league is good. I expect it to be a close game up there.”
JOHNSON ‘FINE’ AFTER INJURY SCARE
A week after breaking the ECU school record for receiving yards in a single game with 283 against Cincinnati, ECU true freshman C.J. Johnson failed to record a catch in a contest for the first time in his career due to injury.
Johnson played the first three offensive series but was dinged up on special teams before heading to the medical tent midway through the first quarter at SMU. He left the game with concussion-like symptoms and didn’t return.
But Johnson was cleared quickly in the days following the game, returning to the practice field on Tuesday during the open date.
“He’s fine,” Houston said of the Pirates’ leading receiver in catches and yards. “He practiced full-go out there.”
Stephen Igoe is the publisher of the East Carolina 247Sports website Hoist The Colours. Check out more of his work at eastcarolina.247sports.com.