The University of Virginia football program was set to start spring practice on March 23. Rising fourth year Charles Snowden should be in Charlottesville, taking spring semester classes and preparing for his final season with the Cavalier football program. Instead, the 2019 All ACC honorable mention selection is at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland, working to establish a new normal amidst a world dealing with the coronavirus.
UVA has sent students home and is conducting its spring semester online. All spring sports and sports activities have been cancelled, including spring football practice. The 6’7” Snowden, who has started 27 straight games at outside linebacker for the Hoos, shed light on what the team misses out on most by not having normal spring football.
“The springtime is a big time where you see young guys really step up, start to really make a name for themselves,” said Snowden, who cited linebacker Nick Jackson and defensive tackle Jowon Briggs as up-and-comers he was excited to see this spring. “It’s our first introduction without the leadership from last year, so working without Bryce and J-Mack and other Bryce, Eli. That’s when you kind of see a lot of the older guys as well kind of step up into their leadership roles. The team really kind of comes together, because in the winter time when we work out it’s kind of separated between the skill position groups and the big guys, so the springtime is where we all kind of come together and you really see who is going to step up and be the leaders for next season.”
Extra practices gained last season from making the ACC Championship and Orange Bowl loom larger given the current circumstance.
“Like Coach Mendenhall says, every practice matters,” Snowden said. “It obviously is not helpful not having a spring, but those practices, now looking back, are that much more valuable.”
Asked how his head coach is handling the situation, Snowden said: “I know Coach Mendenhall loves consistency, so I know this definitely throws him off a bit, but I also think is a time for him to relish. He loves challenges and creating chaos and this is just another challenge that, although he doesn’t have control over it, I know he’s excited to see how we all react in different ways to keep us engaged. We still have a constant line of communication with our strength coaches and our position coaches every day. In a weird way, Coach Mendenhall’s enjoying this because I know he’s excited to see who will step up and show creative excitement when they’re at home.”
Coaches and players, “we’re trying to collaborate as to how we can best make things as normal as possible even though there are obviously extreme circumstances,” Snowden said.
So what does spring football look like? From an accountability standpoint, Mendenhall divides his players into task units. Snowden is the leader of Team Bravo. Rising junior offensive tackle Bobby Haskins is the assistant captain, and there are eight others on the squad. Team Bravo members must check in with Snowden and/or Haskins daily by 3 p.m. to report what they have done workout-wise. The leaders report to strength & conditioning coach Shawn Griswold whether they had 100% participation. Additionally, every player must text his weight to Griswold once per week.
Snowden, who has the makings of one of the team’s leaders next season, says he also checks in with fellow outside linebackers to make sure they are working.
In addition to daily workouts, positional meetings are ongoing.
“We use Zoom and it’s just like a position meeting, so we’ll all have film pulled up on our computers,” Snowden said. “We’ll go over certain concepts from last year, and just as similar as we can to what normal spring ball would be. The biggest difference is we don’t have new film that we’re constantly watching that we can kind of critique. We’re looking back at old stuff and new concepts we’re going over for next season.”
From an individual standpoint, Snowden, whose listed weight on VirginiaSports.com is 235 pounds, is aiming to start fall camp in the lower 240-pound range.
“No weight is kind of bad weight for me right now,” he said.
Conditioning has been easy to maintain. Making sure he is taking in the needed amount of calories has been “a little bit of an adjustment,” Snowden says, especially without a dining hall to frequent. He adds that he is starting to “find a rhythm,” though, giving a nod to his mother.
“I’ve got to give it to her. My mom has done a heck of a job because when she cooks it doesn’t last that long,” said Snowden, who mentioned steak, alfredo pasta, fried chicken, green beans and mac and cheese as some of his favorites. “It’s five mouths to feed. We’re always snacking, but she has done a good job.”
Weight training is the biggest issue for the Cavalier star. Gyms are closed, leaving Snowden with a medicine ball, two resistance bands, and a speaker to work with from home. Coach Griswold has “done a great job of communicating with us,” said Snowden, who adds that pushups, body squats, jump squats, mountain climbers, and med-ball throws are big parts of his daily routine.
“It’s not the same, but we’re finding a way,” Snowden said.
How the coronavirus will impact the upcoming college football season is anyone’s guess. Snowden isn’t entertaining the possibility of 2020 being cancelled.
“We’re still hopeful that hopefully by the summer things will kind of be back to normal and we’ll have that time at least,” Snowden said. “I couldn’t even imagine what that would look like. I haven’t really considered that yet.”
Keeping the Commonwealth Cup in Charlottesville tops Snowden’s list of goals for 2020. Winning the Coastal again, winning the bowl game, and helping the defense finish as a top 25 unit are other goals mentioned by the rangy, athletic linebacker.
Snowden established career-highs in sacks (5), tackles for loss (11), and total tackles (72) his junior campaign, helping the Hoos capture the Commonwealth Cup and the program’s first ever Coastal Division title. As was the case last offseason, getting after the quarterback is what Snowden wants to improve before his final season in Charlottesville.
“My sack number obviously was not anywhere close to where I wanted it to be, but I feel like I had a lot of QB hits, a lot of QB hurries,” Snowden said of his pass-rushing performance last year. “That’s still the biggest area of improvement that I’m looking to improve from the previous season.”
Snowden is persevering through a football-less spring, doing what he can to help keep the program moving forward. In light of the cancellations of the spring sports season and winter sports championships, though, he is moving forward with added perspective.
“I really feel for those seniors,” Snowden said, referring to those seniors who missed out on seasons or championships. “I saw one kid on Twitter who said he rehabbed all year long. Came back for his fifth year, rehabbing and stuff, and just like that it was taken away.”
“It’s a sport you love and you don’t know when it can be taken away from you,” Snowden continued. “It kind of made me appreciate football that much more.”