It’s a thousand miles from home, but for Drew Snelbaker, the University of Tampa offered everything else he desired in a college.
The York Catholic lacrosse standout said the Spartans checked nearly all of the boxes on his wish list — a strong program, the right academics, warm weather, personable coaches and fine facilities.
That combination of factors led the Irish face-off, get-off (FOGO) specialist to recently give a verbal commitment to play for the Spartans.
“Their head coach reached out to me after seeing me play this summer and wanted me down for a visit,” said Snelbaker, who will be a senior in the fall. “I looked into the academic side of things and saw they offered the (bio-chemistry) major I wanted … so it seemed like a good match before even visiting. Once I visited, the academic and athletic facilities were amazing, and I liked the coaches and the atmosphere.”
A top program: Snelbaker will join a Tampa program that is one of the best in NCAA Division II. The Spartans were 15-5 a season ago, losing in the NCAA quarterfinals. Under head coach Rory Whipple, Tampa has advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals or semifinals in each of the last five years, compiling an overall mark of 76-20 during that time.
“I was late in the recruiting process for my class due to a terrible injury that happened playing football (in 2016). I broke my leg, dislocated my ankle and blew out everything else down there. Prior to the injury, I had some D-I interest, but that threw a wrench in things.
"Once I came back, I had sort of a down (lacrosse) season (in 2017) and nothing was coming in. It wasn’t until this spring and summer the interest started coming back. I had some smaller D-I schools looking at me, but I decided I wanted to be part of a team in the running for a national championship every year.”
Distance not a big concern: Tampa’s distance from York County is not a big concern.
“It’ll take a bit to get used to, but I think it will be a good experience, traveling far away from home,” he said. “Once I was on the campus, there was nothing not to like, including the weather. I won’t miss the beginning-of-season practices here in York, practicing in the snow and freezing cold.”
Excelled for Irish: The 5-foot, 8-inch, 190-pound Snelbaker was a second-team York-Adams League lacrosse all-star in 2018, behind Central York star Kollin Vaught. With Vaught having graduated, Snelbaker figures to be the premier FOGO player in the league next season. He’s preparing for that season by competing for his club team (Rock Baltimore) during a packed lacrosse schedule this summer.
“We are looking to build off what we started last year (when the Fighting Irish finished 19-6),” Snelbaker said. “We want to repeat for the (league) title (the third one the Irish won since Snelbaker’s class has been on the team) and finish the job this year at states (the Irish lost in the PIAA Class 2-A semifinals)… A personal goal of mine is to reach that 1,000 face-off win mark. I need to win around 250 this year.”
In 2018, Snelbaker won 81 percent of his face-off battles (424 of 525). He also had 25 goals and four assists.
Crediting coaches, parents: Snelbaker credits much of his lacrosse prowess to his coaches — York Catholic coaches Shane Harper and Jeff Antolick, and his face-off coach, Jeremy Rualo.
“Coach Antolick has coached me since he first got me to pick up a stick in second grade, and since then, on and off the field, he’s been a person I look up to,” Snelbaker said. “… He’s like a parent to me.”
Snelbaker also made sure to give credit to his parents.
“My parents play a huge role,” Snelbaker said. “They book their whole summer around my tournaments and make sure I get where I need to be, since club ball requires a lot of travel. My mom is my No. 1 supporter and my biggest role model. She’s taught me the importance of hard work, and you can always catch her wearing No. 11 on the sidelines.”
Football standout, too: Snelbaker is also a football standout for the Irish, having rushed for 918 yards and averaging 6.5 yards per carry a season ago as a running back, while compiling 59 tackles, including five sacks, as a linebacker. He was second-team Y-A all-star at running back.
— Reach Steve Heiser at firstname.lastname@example.org. Statistics for this story were provided the York Catholic MaxPreps sites.