Kevin Snyder was kind enough to take time out during his Spring Break to answer some questions. In part one of our interview, Kevin talks about his favorite memory from his four-year career, rivalries, and playing in the Big Ten. Oh, and he sheds some light on the quarterback competition set to heat up this spring. You can find part two here.
Q: Let's start with nostalgia. You're a lifer on the Banks. What's your favorite memory from your four years at Rutgers?
Kevin Snyder: My favorite memory? It would have to be this past year at the Michigan game. It was the first Big Ten win for us, the blackout, sold-out crowd, and winning it in the fashion we did in the last couple minutes, blocked field goal and everything and the fans on the field -- I mean, I can't think of a better memory than that.
Q: This past season, you were able to see two new rivalries firsthand: Maryland, and the team from Pennsylvania. Now, you're from Pennsylvania, but the comeback victory over the Terps was historic. So in your mind, which has the potential to be a bigger rivalry?
Kevin Snyder: Looking at it right now, I think Penn State does, and I say that because they came out talking about how they're going to recruit New Jersey, and they're going to take all of the best talent from New Jersey from Rutgers, and how they're a real Division I football team and Rutgers isn't -- so they kind of started that off a little bit, and then when you talk about the fans, you talk about New Jersey people versus Pennsylvania people -- two completely different types of people. Being from Pennsylvania and going to New Jersey, you can see it. There is a real culture clash there, as well as a clash when you make headlines in the news about football and stuff, so I think that one's got the potential to be a really good rivalry in the future. I mean, we had a great start to it.
Q: You mention you're favorite memory was the Michigan game, but during that Penn State game -- even as good as the Michigan game was, I can't remember a better atmosphere than against Penn State. Can you talk about the feelings you had during that game even though it didn't turn out the way we all wanted it to?
Kevin Snyder: I remember the Louisville game my sophomore year (2012) and how incredible that was, but I think the Penn State game even dwarfed that. I came out for pregame, and usually when you come out for pregame warmups an hour before the game, there are a couple fans in there, there's not much -- I came out there and the place was already filling up, the student section was already half-filled, and you kind of had that feeling about it. Once the game started, every play we made -- deafening. Couldn't hear anything, fans were in it the whole time no matter what was happening, and it was also good because Penn State had a good enough showing there that you can almost feel the tension in the stands as well. Even though you're playing, you can feel it. Anytime something happens, you can feel hate one way, or hate the other way, so it was just one of those things where there was so much tension in the stadium that it was awesome. Except for the loss, that was the best atmosphere I've ever been in.
Q: What do you think about the Maryland game? I think it did a lot to stoke the rivalry, what about you?
Kevin Snyder: It really did, purely because of the way they came out hot, and then we -- on their field -- brought it back and we had such a good showing there as Rutgers fans and family that we kind of turned that stadium upside down a little bit, and we silenced everybody and all you could hear was Rutgers fans. I think that was big and obviously being neighbors -- neighbors-ish, I guess you could say -- to the south or southwest is another huge thing. It all starts with battling in recruiting. Then when you battle in recruiting, a kid who picks a certain school will then talk about why he chose that school over Rutgers, or whether he chose whatever school or that school, because this school didn't have this and that, and then that helps build it as well. I think that being neighbors really helps, really stokes that fire.
Q: I remember reading in an interview with you earlier this season about the best player you played against. That was before you finished the Big Ten season. Now that you have played a full year against the Big Ten, has your answer changed?
Kevin Snyder: Oh boy. Who did I say in that one? Did I say Tavon Austin?
Q: Tavon Austin was definitely mentioned, but you also mentioned Geno Smith and Teddy Bridgewater. So a lot of Big East, AAC guys.
Kevin Snyder: Those guys were all really good. Thinking about this year, the amount of talent we played every week, playing Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman, Ezekiel Elliot - who really didn't have a huge game against us, but still just an incredible player - J.T. Barrett -- I don't know which one of them would be the best player, those guys were all top-level players, top-level talent that I've ever played against. Then you have another guy in Melvin Gordon, and the list goes on and on. You have other guys at Michigan State with Tony Lippett and Jeremy Langford -- those guys are all top-level talent and probably some of the best I've ever played against.
Q: When Rutgers was invited to the Big Ten, there was so much talk about the step up in competition, Rutgers will just struggle...and then you come out with an 8-5 record. What do you think about the step up in competition? Do you see it considering Rutgers, for the first year, did pretty well?
Kevin Snyder: I think it's more unique -- at least in my position, I could feel it more than I could see it. There are a lot of athletes in the middle and the interior of the offensive line. They are big, and every week you play against top-level competition. It's not like those other leagues where some teams you see a really good offensive line and then next week you would see a step down, and then they throw the ball around a lot. A lot of this league is that these teams have great lines, they're great up front, and they build from there and they let their athletes do the rest, so I definitely did see it. A couple of those games got away from us, but for the most part we saw what we were up against and I think that in continuing to build in recruiting and in strength and size, we have an opportunity to compete really well at a high level in this league.
Q: RU loses a ton of experience with your departure. Do you have any ideas on who will fill out the linebacker unit next season?
Kevin Snyder: All I know is that the two that have been solid there the past two years. You have Quentin Gause at SAM linebacker and you have Steve Longa who was with me two years in the middle. I know those guys are solid and I know they'll play well this year. I have no idea what's going to happen in the middle. I don't know what the depth chart is going to look like, I don't even know three-quarters of the guys looking to play MIKE, so I really have no idea. I'll be tuning in just as much as anybody else during spring to try to check in and see how everything is going.
Q: Prior to this season, Kemoko Turay was mentioned as a potential breakout star. This past season, is there anyone else that you might say: 'Next year, he could be the next Kemoko Turay?'
Kevin Snyder: Oh boy. That's a good question -- On the defensive side, I think we have a lot of guys that contributed last year, so I don't think there are many guys who are going to be very surprising to anybody. Offensively, I think it's going to come down to just looking at quarterback. Whoever our quarterback is, he's going to be the achilles' heel of our team this year. Being that we've had Gary and Chas the past three or four years, I think that's the position that everyone is going to have to look at, and that quarterback -- whoever it ends up being -- is going to end up being our achilles heel on how far we can go and how well we can play. I think that guy -- whoever he is -- is going to be our standout guy that makes the difference.
Q: Let's explore that a little bit. Gary, after a great four-year campaign, is leaving the Banks, and we have a quarterback competition this spring. The top two names -- Hayden Rettig and Chris Laviano -- any thoughts on the competition between them?
Kevin Snyder: You see a guy like Chris, who got a little bit of game experience last year -- played a little bit against Nebraska, but I'm not sure if he played in any more games. I think with Chris, you get a guy who -- both of these guys have a great arm and can throw the deep ball wherever -- but with Chris, I think he has great athleticism. He can run, he can move out of the pocket when he needs to, and I think that's an added dimension that he can bring on top of just understanding our offense. Hayden -- he seems more naturally gifted, like he has more of a gifted arm than Chris does, at least I think. I don't know, that's just what it looked like. He can really throw it and it seems like he can make all of the throws with a phenomenal arm. It's really going to be interesting because with a guy like Hayden, I've never seen him play a meaningful snap. I can't really say much about [Hayden], but I've seen Chris play and I've taken reps against him. For Chris, it's going to be a matter of mastering our offense better than he had it, trusting in his ability, and allowing himself to be an athlete and make plays. With Hayden, it's going to be interesting. First couple days of spring are going to be really telling as to where he's going to go.
In part two, Kevin talks about preparing for the NFL, his thoughts on Chris Borland's retirement, and his Final Four picks.