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The DMV is a hotbed for NFL talent, and in recent years, the Washington Football Team has taken advantage.
From drafting Jonathan Allen (Stone Bridge) and Chase Young (DeMatha) in the first round to adding Logan Thomas (Brookville) and Kendall Fuller (Good Counsel) in free agency, Washington has turned to its own backyard to construct a roster that helped the franchise win its first NFC East title since 2015.
In anticipation for the 2021 NFL Draft, which kicks off Thursday, April 29, Washingtonfootball.com is examining some of the best local prospects in this year's draft class by talking to their high school coaches. After starting with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, we moved into the District and take a look at University of Virginia linebacker Charles Snowden.
Charles Snowden, LB, Virginia
Head coach Gary Schnell learned three things about Charles Snowden when he transferred to St. Albans School after his sophomore year: he was humble, uniquely athletic and absolutely dead set on not playing football.
Schnell got to meet Snowden during his first visit to St. Albans, located in the shadow of the National Cathedral in northeastern Washington D.C.. He learned that Snowden had actually played football as a freshman, but his mind was fixed on being a Division I basketball player.
Snowden then plunged into the AAU circuit, and Schnell did not plan to see him on St. Albans' football roster. But then Schnell got a phone call after the Bulldogs started their season. It was Snowden, who had "caught football fever" after watching a game between Northwest Washington and Anacostia and wanted to know if he could still join the team. Naturally, Schnell welcomed him with open arms.
"He's just one of those kids that is hard not to like," Schnell said. "He's a very likeable young man, a very hard worker and was always a very humble kid."
It's more common now for basketball players to excel in football, and Snowden is no exception. All-conference accolades and a spot among the Cavaliers' greatest pass-rushers filled Snowden's four years at the University of Virginia, and now he is on the cusp of being one of the lucky players selected in the NFL Draft. All that stemmed from one phone call and his willingness to give football a chance.
"Even back then when he was being recruited by some of these schools, they were saying, 'Man, this kid's got a chance to even be at the next level," Schnell said. "People were looking at him and saying, 'Okay, if he can develop his body, he's got some things that they really like about him."
Snowden already possessed the unique physical traits that scouts clamor for in prospects. He had a long, 6-foot-7 frame and the skills he developed on the court. That was good, because he could focus his time on learning the many nuances of the sport that can take at least four years to learn in less than half the time. In addition to playing as a defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid, Schnell and St. Albans coaches put Snowden at receiver thinking many of his basketball talents would translate easier.
Snowden could run and was an easy target in the passing game, Schnell said, so it was easier for him to make plays on offense, but he steadily started to improve on defense. He got stronger, started to play with more leverage and use his hands. He put all of those new found attributes to good use by knocking down passes and occasionally grabbing interceptions.
"I don't even think we were looking for that," Schnell said. "We were just trying to make him better each game. You could see that he could do certain things, but he really had to work on how to be a defensive end/outside backer and use his body that way."
After Snowden finished out the season, it was obvious to Schnell that he was going to start getting attention from Division I schools. He even told Snowden that before basketball season started, but the reply he got was "I'm not real interested."
"A bunch of schools wanted to know about Charles, and he didn't really have anything to do with them," Schnell said, "to the point where I wasn't really sure if he was going to even play football as a senior."
Then two things happened that started to change Snowden's mind: first, St. Albans basketball coach O.J. Johnson, who briefly played receiver and tight end for Virginia, helped convince him to start looking at some Ivy League options and attend some spring camps.
Then, Virginia started to inch into the forefront. As it turned out, the program already had its eyes on Snowden; unbeknownst to Snowden or Schnell, some of its scouts had attended one of his games. That interest only intensified once Snowden showed up at one of its camp practices.
Flash forward to October of Snowden's senior year, and Schnell got a call from Cavaliers linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga, who told him that Virginia was going to offer Snowden a scholarship. Schnell said he was so surprised that he "almost drove off of Rhode Island Avenue."
"They asked me what I thought about him," Schnell said, "And I said, 'You know, if you can convince him to be a football player, you're gonna have a really good one."
Virginia's coaches didn't need to do much to convince Snowden, though. He was already attracted to the academics and level of play the program offered. Once he decided he wanted to play for Virginia, that was when he fully dedicated himself to playing football.
"My heart had always been set on playing basketball in college, but when schools like U-Va. and Duke and Maryland come calling, it's hard to say no to those schools," Snowden told The Washington Post. "Growing up, I've always been a huge college football fan, so just to be a part of it, it was an offer I couldn't turn down."
Schnell was impressed by how much Snowden bought into Virginia's program, and the results of that commitment could be seen in how Snowden looked and played. By the end of his senior year, he had bulked up by 45 pounds and was one of the most dominant defensive players on the Cavaliers' roster. He suffered a season-ending injury eight games into the 2020 season, but he still managed to record 6.0 sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. He ended his career at Virginia 15th in career sacks (15.0).
Schnell has been a witness for nearly all of Snowden's football career, and now he's about to see Snowden take the next step in that path. He still occasionally thinks back on how he, Johnson and the Snowden family had to convince him to pursue the sport, and wherever his former player goes next, he hopes the environment is full of coaches who can elevate Snowden's skillset to another level.
"Most coaches are really good teachers, and at the professional level, they're the best teachers you can find," Schnell said. "So if he can find a good teacher with whatever team it is, he's gonna do well. Because he's still learning."