Splitting the Uprights
IU Football Kicker & CGHS Alum Nathanael Snyder Talks Overcoming Injury & Looking Forward
Photography Provided by Center Grove Football and IU Football
Center Grove High School Head Football Coach Eric Moore tries to instill in his players “Hard Work x Dedication = Success”.
Former CG kicker, Nathanael Snyder of Indiana University, exemplifies this mantra better than anyone. Snyder’s most memorable moment in high school was splitting the uprights with a game-tying 34-yard field goal in the final seconds of the 2015 final four game versus Avon.
“Probably the most famous kick,” Moore recalls. “As we’re marching (CG’s final offensive drive of the game), I think Nate was the only one in the stadium that didn’t want us to score a touchdown and win,” Moore says. “I think he wanted us to have to kick a field goal. As far as a coach, that’s the kind of guy you want, to put the ball in his hands and the keys to the car because he wants to drive.”
Snyder’s IU teammate and high school holder, Drew Conrad, recollects the historic field goal.
“Nathanael, Jacob Limbach (long snapper), and I were all so calm on the outside despite the high levels of stress we felt on the inside,” he says. “It was as if we’d done this kick a million times as an operation and this was just another day on the job. Avon called a time-out to ice Nathanael and it was almost comical. He took a couple practice swings at midfield in the direction of Avon’s sideline and then put the kick right down the middle. I remember jumping on his back and holding up the number one.”
Snyder says the field goal is an awesome memory.
“People on the team were so pumped after that kick that there was no denying us in overtime,” he says. “It meant a lot to see how happy Drew Conrad was for me after that kick. He had jumped on my shoulders before the ball even went through the uprights.”
Center Grove secured the semi-state win against Avon in double overtime and went on to win the state title.
After graduating from CG in 2016, Snyder was set to attend West Point to play college football for Army. However, due to eyesight issues, he was turned away. Snyder scrambled to acquire a walk-on roster spot at Indiana University. After reaching the pinnacle of his high school football career as the starting kicker for the undefeated state champion Trojans, Snyder had to start all over again by working his way up the IU depth chart. Snyder served as the IU back-up kicker his first two seasons. During his second season, he suffered a horrific injury during practice, breaking his leg. The injury required three surgeries and 13 months of rehabilitation.
“Being a walk-on with a potential career-ending injury is what most would consider impossible,” Conrad says. “When Nathanael snapped his leg in a ninety-degree angle, I would say 99% of the team expected him to be done. The doctor said he’d have trouble running normally, let alone playing division one football. Despite the doubt and surgeries, Nathanael’s will for playing on that stage continually won his heart and mind.”
Snyder told Moore over the phone that he was determined to overcome this setback.
“You’re working so hard and doing so well and so close to maybe playing and maybe earning a scholarship,” Moore says. “Now you have a broken leg. As a kicker, you kidding me! I’ve never heard of an injury like that and a football player recovering and playing again, let alone recovering and getting better. In the back of mind I was thinking, you’re never going to kick again. He worked so hard physically in the weight room and rehab. He got all the way back. I get a call from Coach Allen (IU head football coach) saying we’re going to offer Nate Snyder (a scholarship). What? Wow! That’s awesome!”
IU practiced at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis prior to its season-opening game against Ball State to be played at that venue. Before one of Snyder’s practice kicks, former Colts punter and kickoff specialist, Pat McAfee, appeared on the stadium jumbotron with a surprise announcement. McAfee said in a prerecorded video that Snyder had earned a scholarship.
“I had no idea I was going to get one, and it was such an overwhelming feeling,” Snyder says. “It means a lot that the coaching staff thinks that highly of me to put me on scholarship. It was a collective effort of the classroom, weight room and training and rehab on my own finally paying off. The way it was delivered could not have been cooler and I was so thankful that IU went through all that effort to surprise me. I was very excited and thankful but knew I could not be satisfied. It was important to me that the coaches knew that I would continue to work and be a leader on the field and in the weight room.”
“When I saw he was awarded a scholarship and starting role, I knew it was about time,” Conrad adds. “I’d say hard work and some good luck won him the right to kick off for the Hoosiers, but in reality, it was a lot of hard work despite a lot of bad luck. He earned every kick he had this season and then some.”
Snyder had 55 kickoffs this season, 24 touchbacks and averaged 59.9 yards per kickoff. The Hoosiers played in the prestigious Gator Bowl against Tennessee the day after New Year’s. Snyder was front and center on the big stage with the game opening kickoff.
“Playing in the Gator Bowl was an awesome experience,” Snyder says. “The stadium was near capacity and millions more watching at home. It was a dream of mine since I was a little kid to play on a big stage in front of millions. It’s cool seeing my friends from all over the country watching the game and sending me videos of myself on TV.”
Snyder went from high school state champ, to IU walk on, to nearly having his football career end with a gruesome leg injury, to kicking off the Gator Bowl for the Hoosiers.
“The trials and tribulations that were endured during my football career were so imperative to any success thus far I’ve had in my life,” Snyder says. “From what I have heard, life is full of ups and downs and obstacles that must be overcome. My career has been nothing short of that. I stayed motivated which is the most important thing when battling adversity. I wouldn’t change the way my career has gone. I believe this offseason could really push my kicking to the next level and I will have an unmatched year next year.”