coreyCory Snyder: Christ, Character, and Commitment

For the Westminster varsity football team, this season is one for the history books. A 27-14 win over John Burroughs on October 3 catapulted the team to their first-ever 7-0 start and handed them Westminster’s first outright Metro League championship – cause for huge celebration. For Head Coach Cory Snyder, however, three things remain most important when it comes to football, no matter the outcome on the field: Christ, character, and commitment to excellence.

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“We talk a lot with the guys at weekly chapel and before games about character development,” says Coach Snyder. “We try to start with who the guys are as individuals and how the roles you fill after high school – employee, employer, husband, father – always begin with character.”

This three-pronged approach, as Coach Snyder describes it, is an intentional and pervasive philosophy for the Westminster football program. “We hope that when guys walk out of the program they have grown in their relationship with Christ (or come closer to knowing Him), grown in their character, and competed at the highest level they can,” says Coach Snyder. It’s a philosophy he hopes the players will carry with them all their lives.

Football played a significant part in Coach Snyder’s own life. “I played in high school in the small town of New Carlisle, Ohio, where I grew up,” says Coach Snyder. “The coaches I had and the experience of being on the team was life-changing for me. They had a huge impact on me in terms of teaching me discipline, responsibility, and toughness.”

In fact, it was thanks to the guidance and encouragement of his football coaches that led Coach Snyder to apply to Washington University in St. Louis after being recruited to play college football for the university. Once at Wash U, he joined the team as a wide receiver. The team’s coach, Larry Kindbom, husband of Westminster College and Career Counselor Kate Kindbom, would eventually be the one to connect Coach Snyder to Westminster and land him his first job out of college.

At Wash U, Coach Snyder began his degree with aspirations of becoming a doctor, but God had other plans. “Looking back, I wasn’t really prepared to handle the academic challenges [at Wash U],” he says. “High school had been pretty easy, and when I got to college, it took me a year and a half to figure it all out. I didn’t really know what it would take in terms of study habits to be successful in the pre-med track.”

Eventually, he changed his major to physics and secondary education. Deciding to become a teacher seemed like a natural alternative. “I was already pretty good at helping friends in high school with homework – explaining concepts and how things work,” he says. “I was also invested in my physics degree at Wash U. I wasn’t interested in business, and it made sense to me to go the education route.” His change in course, and ultimately career, was a decision he felt was in line with God’s plan for his life. “You don’t go to Wash U to be a teacher, but I know that it was definitely the hand of God that led me there and to St. Louis,” he says. “I was actually looking at a few other colleges my senior year of high school, but ultimately Wash U was where God directed me.”

After his senior year of college, Coach Snyder met his wife Nicole while attending a singles Bible study. The two were married in March 2003. They now have two children, AJ (9) and Elise (7). Following graduation, Kindbom encouraged Coach Snyder to apply for a teaching position at Westminster. “I was hesitant at first,” says Coach. “There weren’t many private schools where I grew up – only small ones. But eventually, I applied. [Head of School Emeritus] Jim Marsh called me, and I scheduled a time to visit the campus. I met him there, and he showed me around.” The rest was history.

Currently in his 15th year at Westminster, Coach Snyder fills multiple roles and juggles a range of different responsibilities as a physics teacher, registrar, and head coach of the varsity football team. His first year at Westminster, he taught math; his second year, he began teaching physics, a position he says was better suited for him. In 2007, he assumed the registrar position while working as an assistant football coach and defensive coordinator.

While his roles and responsibilities at Westminster have fluctuated, teaching has remained a constant. Coach Snyder says it’s something he wants to hold on to. “If all I was doing was an office job, I would lose connection with the kids. Teaching gives me that connection with them outside of the football program. I also do lunchroom duty to be around students and touch base with them.” At the end of the day, it’s ultimately the way students grow through the learning process that matters most, he says. “For me, it’s about the growth of students much more than the subject matter. I know that the amount of physics they’ll remember 10-15 years from now won’t be astounding, but the growth they experience in learning physics will help them the rest of their lives.”

He feels the same way about his position as head football coach, a role he assumed in 2011. He says football is as much about the personal and spiritual growth of the players as it is about winning the game. “The honest truth is that for me, there are two parts to coaching,” he says. “One part is that I love the game. I love competing and strategizing – that’s the personal side. The second and bigger part is that God used the game of football in my life to direct my path and lead me. He uses a lot of different things in people’s lives, and that’s what he used in my life to lead me to Wash U and bring me to Westminster.”

In the same way that God used football to work in his life, Coach Snyder sees football as an opportunity to grow his student athletes. “It’s a chance to teach them character during a prime time for growth and spiritual development in their lives,” says Coach Snyder, reflecting on his own high school experience. “God changes you. I’m not the same person I was then. Remembering God’s work in my life during that time helps me understand and engage with my athletes today.”

Change has been a key element in the development of the football program the past several years. The guys and the program have come a long way, Coach Snyder says. “Traditionally, season win-loss records have been like mountains and valleys. We’re definitely in an upcycle right now. When we return back to a ‘norm,’ I don’t want that norm to be a valley like it was in the past,” he says. “I hope that we can continue to develop a program that’s more consistent with on-field success.

Still through all the highs and lows, the students in the football program have demonstrated incredible effort, resilience, and perseverance. They have clearly represented the program’s three core values: Christ, character, and commitment to excellence. It’s the legacy Coach Snyder hopes the football program will leave. It’s also the legacy the team has visually represented on the locker room wall through a large graphic featuring players throughout the program’s history.

“When our players see those photos, we hope the pictures will say to them, ‘You are a part of something bigger here,’” says Coach Snyder. “We routinely talk to the guys about how the program isn’t just about when they’re in it. It’s about the legacy they’re leaving for the guys who follow them. It’s about who they’re going to be and how they’re going to play. That’s what stays for years to come.”