June 27, 2016

Mostly cloudy

It doesn’t add up: Wadsworth running back Jack Snowball doesn’t have a D-I offer

Wadsworth’s Jack Snowball — it just sounds like a football name, doesn’t it? — has carried the ball 283 times for 2,250 yards and 30 touchdowns in 11 games.

He’s caught four passes for 67 yards.

Wadsworth’s Jack Snowball runs the ball behind John Hamblen (71) and Bret Baughman against Wooster. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY AARON JOSEFCZYK)

He’s returned nine kicks for an average of 33.7 yards, including a 94-yard touchdown.

He’s fielded four punts and returned them an average of 7.8 yards.

He’s even completed 4-of-6 passes for 188 yards and two scores (though we must point out he has an interception, lest you think he’s perfect).

What he hasn’t done is fumble — or received a single Division I college scholarship offer.

The former is phenomenal — “The receivers and line work so hard, I don’t want to just give it away,” Snowball said Thursday — and the latter boggles the mind.

At 6-foot — OK, he’s probably closer to 5-10 — and a legitimate 211 pounds, Snowball has the size colleges want.

Timed at 4.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash at an Ohio State camp over the summer, he’s far from a true burner, but he is among the three fastest players on Wadsworth’s team, which will meet Hudson in a Division I, Region 2 semifinal game Saturday at 7 p.m. at Canton’s Fawcett Stadium.

Intelligent, humble, unassuming and team-oriented, he’s got all the intangibles.

Blessed with incredible balance and vision, he’s fast enough to break a big run, yet strong enough to finish a burst between the tackles with a punishing forward lean that almost always moves the pile.

To date, however, only Division II Lake Erie and D-III Mount Union and Baldwin-Wallace have shown a lot of interest, though there’s still a chance a Mid-American Conference school could enter the picture.

The way Snowball sees it, if it happens, great. If not, that’s great, too. He’ll find a school that’s right for him, regardless of the level, play four more years, get a degree in business and go on with his life.

What the remarkably mature senior won’t do is worry about things he can’t control, especially with the biggest game of his prep career approaching.

“Honestly, it doesn’t really matter to me,” Snowball said during a break from a study hall at Wadsworth. “I’m just having fun on the ride we’re taking right now. We’re in the midst of a playoff run. I’m just concerned about keeping that going.”

It is that approach — and it’s legit, not an act — that endears Snowball to his teammates. He may become a Division I first-team All-Ohio pick, but at Wadsworth he’s just one of 11 guys doing his job.

That he does it so well makes him a superstar with the media, but Snowball would much rather praise a teammate — or teammates — than talk about himself.

He has been interviewed so many times he now smiles when he credits his line, tight ends, receivers and fullback for their blocking. He knows it sounds like a cliché, but he also means it — and makes a point of doing it after every game.

Don’t underestimate what that means to the rest of the Grizzlies, who are fully aware that no matter how many things Snowball does to fit in, he’s almost always going to stand out.

“Seeing him doing what he’s doing now is incredible,” safety C.J. Edwards said. “I’ve never seen somebody get better as the game goes on like him. I watch the games again later at night, and it’s crazy. The Wooster game, he broke a 40-yard touchdown run. He broke two tackles, spun around a guy and scored. It’s just crazy to see.

“I love the kid to death. It’s great to see all the hard work has paid off for him after a disappointing season last year.”

Ah, last season. It’s one Snowball, who rushed for 1,201 yards and 14 TDs as a sophomore, would like to forget, but can’t.

In Wadsworth’s first game, against Stow, he suffered a partially torn right medial collateral ligament while playing defense. In typical fashion, Snowball put part of the blame for the freak injury on himself.

“I missed a tackle, actually,” he said. “I was running to the pile and turned to plant to go back to the huddle when some guy rolled off the pile onto me. My knee just buckled.”

Unable to walk off the field under his own power, Snowball spent the next month making thrice weekly visits to a rehabilitation center at Akron Children’s Hospital.

He was back in the lineup against Green in Week 5 — and promptly suffered a broken right collarbone on the second play. On a run to the right, Snowball was tackled by the legs from behind. When he landed, his neck and body went to the left, but his right shoulder headed in the opposite direction.

“I stayed in six or seven more plays,” he said with no hint of bravado. “Then I finally said, ‘This isn’t going to work.’”

Season-ending surgery — Snowball missed his entire junior basketball season, but plans to play this winter — followed.

Through it all, Snowball maintained a level head and continued to think about his teammates, who would go on to suffer through a dismal 3-7 season.

When he hurt his knee, he said he would have to be “the biggest cheerleader” on the team until he got back. When he broke his collarbone, he uttered one of the best lines ever by a high school athlete, saying he couldn’t even call his season a roller coaster because there had been no highs.

In a classic case of good things happening to good people, this season has been the exact opposite.

Snowball still has nine screws and a plate in his collarbone — he said he once set off a metal detector at the airport — but he’s playing better than ever.

“His work ethic throughout when he was hurt was phenomenal,” Edwards said. “He put so much time in in the offseason.”

The results are there for everyone to see.

In Week 1 against Ashland, Snowball rushed for 136 yards. In Week 2, he had 284 against Wooster, followed by 176 vs. Medina. That gave way to 213 rushing yards against Cloverleaf, 139 in a romp over Revere, 201 at Green, 261 at Copley, 130 in a loss to Tallmadge, 291 — and six touchdowns — against Highland, 255 vs. Nordonia and 164 in a first-round playoff win at GlenOak.

In all those games, he was as good — if not better — at the end than he was at the beginning. The same holds true for the season, as Snowball has gotten stronger as the year has gone on.

“But not just me,” he said. “Our line gets stronger, too. They’re opening huge holes for me in the fourth quarter.

“I’ll carry it as many times as they’ll give it to me. If they keep giving it to me, I’ll keep running it.”

All told, Snowball has handled the ball 306 times this season. Not once has he given it up.

He came close once. Against Copley, Snowball was about to go in for a touchdown when the ball squirted out of his grasp. On his back in the end zone, the pigskin fell right back into his arms for a TD.

Because the ball never hit the ground, Snowball officially doesn’t have a fumble this season.

He also still doesn’t have a single Division I college scholarship offer.

Both are hard to fathom.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.