Topics: College of Applied Sciences and Technology, Athletics

May 4, 2016

Willie Snead

Willie Snead, a wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints, will graduate Saturday with a degree in sport administration. He played three seasons for the Cardinals, joined the NFL his senior season and has since returned to campus to finish his education.

In life, smart people learn one thing very quickly: Always do what your mother asks of you.

A case in point is former Ball State football standout and rising NFL star Willie Snead IV. While most NFL players spend the offseason on vacation or resting up from aches and pains, Snead has been back at Ball State to complete his bachelor’s degree in sport administration and fulfill Mom’s directive.

“When I was growing up, I watched a lot of good college players leave school early for the NFL, and I thought that was cool,” Snead said. “But my mom never thought it was all that cool and told me that if I ever left early and tried for the NFL, I’d better go back at some point and get my degree. When my mom talks, I listen.”

After three seasons playing at Ball State, Snead decided to forego his senior season in 2014 to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL. That dream was slow to unfold, as Snead went undrafted and spent that season getting cut by two teams before landing in December with the practice squad of the New Orleans Saints. It was there, one season later, that Snead blossomed.

But he hadn’t forgotten his mother’s words.

“After playing one year in the NFL, it made me realize that football is not forever,” he said. “And while actually both my parents urged me to finish my degree, I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do for myself as well, so I’m glad I’m doing it now rather than later.”

“After playing one year in the NFL, it made me realize that football is not forever. And while actually both my parents urged me to finish my degree, I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do for myself as well, so I’m glad I’m doing it now rather than later.”

— Willie Snead
sport administration major and New Orleans Saints wide receiver

Snead, 23, is taking his final three classes during the spring semester and also will have to complete an internship, something he hopes he can get done before reporting to the Saints training camp in July.

“Everybody has been so good to me here once I decided to come back,” he said. “Ball State wants me, and Ball State wants me to succeed. I always felt that way when I played football here, and that’s the way I feel now. I am truly blessed.”

After his NFL playing days are over, Snead hopes to follow in the footsteps of his father, Willie Snead III, and be a football coach. The younger Snead played for his father in high school, in Muskegon Heights, Michigan.

“I’ve learned so much from my parents,” he said. “They were always there for me. They always taught me never to give up on my dreams.”

That thinking, despite getting cut twice early on, also applied to his goal of playing in the NFL.

“When things didn’t work out with the (Cleveland) Browns and the (Carolina) Panthers, I always came back to my strong Christian faith and the support of my family and friends,” he said. “I always knew I had the talent to play in the NFL, and I always knew that the right opportunity was only one phone call away.”

Snead’s NFL potential became evident after his freshman year at Ball State. He was only the second player in Cardinal football history to tally 1,000 receiving yards in two seasons (2012 and 2013). He still holds the Ball State record for the most games over 100 yards receiving, with 13, and was named first-team All-Mid-American Conference in 2013.

Snead made his first NFL start for the Saints in Week 2 of the 2015 season and completed the year with 984 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He became the team’s second-leading receiver that season, trailing only the 1,138 yards recorded by Saints veteran Brandin Cooks.

Snead’s first NFL touchdown, a 16-yard pass from future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees on Sept. 20 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is something he’ll never forget.

Willie Snead touchdown

Willie Snead catches his first NFL touchdown pass, on Sept. 20, 2015, vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints.

“When I got into the end zone, I looked back, and there was a flag on the play,” Snead recalled. “My heart sunk for a moment, but when I saw it was on Tampa, it was one of the greatest moments of my life.”

As the season progressed, Brees made it clear that his belief in Snead was growing with each game. One person who should know: first-year Ball State football coach Mike Neu, who spent the past two years as the Saints’ quarterbacks coach.

“Drew was very impressed with Willie from his first day with the Saints,” Neu said. “He has a great deal of confidence in Willie’s ability to get open and to catch the ball.”

An NFL career and a Ball State degree that’s within reach are the result of Snead’s faith and an unrelenting drive to succeed. His faith has always been there. But he shares a story, for the first time, that puts his perseverance, his early NFL disappointments and refusal to quit in an inspiring context.

“I’ve never told anybody this before, but I was once on an 8-year-old football team and was the youngest kid out there,” he said. “Before the first game, the coach came to me and took my jersey because he needed it for an older kid.

“I understood why he did it, but I was bitterly disappointed and just felt like quitting,” Snead recalled, “but I didn’t, and I got to play later.

“I also made myself a promise, right then and there, that something like that would never again make me want to quit, no matter what obstacles came my way. That incident when I was just a kid has always been a big motivator for me. It’s something I think about all the time.”