Mike Casazza: Linebacker Jewone Snow might realize his potential
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Somewhere along the way, people seem to have forgotten something about Jewone Snow.
Not his name. Not the position he plays. Not that he's even on the team.
Oh, those clouds begin to form when a player's experience is as stormy as Snow's has been with West Virginia, considering the unfortunate injuries and the surgeries and the head coach who joked the player is "year-to-year" with whatever's ailing him this time.
Yet what is so often overlooked is that Snow can play football. Like, really play.
He is the son of former Michigan All-American Garland Rivers and football was in the family early enough to put the pigskin in his hands and a helmet on his head when he was 8 years old. Snow was twice a Division I all-state linebacker in Canton, Ohio, an impressive presence on an equally strong list of players like Texas' Jordan Hicks, Michigan's Jake Ryan and Ohio State's Zach Boren.
As a redshirt freshman in 2011, Snow played for the Mountaineers and started seven times. The talent has never been a question and Snow believes what so many others just seem hesitant to accept when it comes to Saturday's noon game at Kansas (Root Sports).
"After a snap or two," the 6-foot-2, 245-pound redshirt junior said, "I'll be fine."
Snow will start, or at least play a lot, as a middle linebacker for the Mountaineers after leading tackler Jared Barber was lost for the year to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in last week's loss to Texas. At the minimum, he'll be a part of a rotation with fifth-year senior Tyler Anderson.
He'll see his most extended playing time since the 2011 regular-season finale against USF, which was also the last time he started a game. That was also right about the time people started getting concerned about his shoulders, which led to a series of injuries that robbed him of a year of football. He can't help but take a moment now and think of where he might be.
"All the time," he said. "All the time."
Snow would miss the Orange Bowl after an MRI not long before the game showed labrum tears in his shoulders. He was hardly surprised. He remembers when he first hurt them.
"It was my freshman year," he said, "of high school."
Snow had always been told he had shoulder strains, but developed into tears. He had the operation to fix just the left with plans to fix the right later, labrums being the sort of things football player can only afford to fix one at a time. During preseason camp that summer, he was working out in the weight room - "it was a light weight, only like 215 pounds," Snow remembered - when more trouble came.
"It was the last rep of the last set and I came up and as soon as I reached up, my lower body and upper body went in different directions," he said.
That pain he felt was two herniated discs letting him know he had a problem. Snow applied all the ice, treatment, rest and time that was prescribed and he was able to play in wins against Baylor and Texas last season before the right labrum ripped against Texas Tech.
That required immediate surgery and he was smart throughout his rehabilitation, the winter conditioning program and spring football. Snow was cleared for everything in May, which meant he was with the team at the start of practice in August. Early on, though, something else went wrong.
"Since I hadn't gone through spring ball and hadn't played football in about a year, my body wasn't used to the banging every day," he said. "I woke up one morning and couldn't get out of bed or walk or stuff like that. I tried to practice, but I couldn't move."
The next morning, he couldn't put on his socks. Same injury. Same discs. He needed more ice, more treatment, more rest and more time to recover, but all along WVU knew he had a place on the team. In his first week back, Snow was the scout team defensive player of the week for the Georgia State game. Joe DeForest, the special teams coach, then put Snow in as a backup on punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return.
Only a few players are ever on all four special teams.
When Nick Kwiatkoski hurt his hamstring against Maryland, Snow took Kwiatkoski's spot on the kickoff return team. DeForest then made Snow a starter on the kickoff team and the punt return team. It was Snow who darted through the Texas line and shield to block a punt for a safety last week, the first punt block safety since 2000. That earned Snow a starting spot this week on the punt return team.
It is the heights like these that make the depths of the experience so insignificant. And trust that Snow was down when he was out, that he struggled with frustrations as he missed game and practices for the first time in his entire career. He even considered the inconceivable and thought, for however brief, about giving up the game.
"I didn't want to, but there was a point in time I didn't think my body would be able to hold up," he said.
But he is up again, proud not only that he's peaked at the time WVU needs a healthy linebacker, but that he made it through the valley to get here.
"I just love football," he said. "I've played it since I was 8 and I know one day I'm not going to be able to play it. I'm just going to try to play for as long as I can."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.