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Nick Sirianni name-dropped a ‘good football player’ after the Eagles’ win. Here’s that player’s story. | Mike Sielski

Ron Snyder was a standout high school quarterback who played for Sirianni's father, Fran. He was stunned, and honored, that the Eagles' coach remembered him.

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni walks along the sideline before the victory over the Broncos.
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni walks along the sideline before the victory over the Broncos.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Ron Snyder and his wife, Tammy, were at their home in Lakewood, N.Y., on Sunday night, watching the Chiefs-Raiders game on NBC, when Nick Sirianni plucked Snyder’s name out of his memory and held him up as an example of all that is admirable in an athlete. DeVonta Smith had just caught two touchdown passes in the Eagles’ 30-13 victory over the Broncos in Denver, and across 1,500 miles and more than 35 years, Sirianni found what he considered a perfect comparison to Smith in a 55-year-old, goateed service adviser at a Ford dealership.

“Sometimes you say about a guy, ‘He’s just a good football player,’” Sirianni said. “Growing up in a coach’s house, that was the ultimate compliment. I’m going to say a name: Ron Snyder. He was a quarterback for Southwestern High School. ‘Man, he’s just a good football player.’”

There was no barrage of calls and text messages coming Snyder’s way after Sirianni’s comments. Who in Chautauqua County was riveted to an internet feed of the Eagles’ postgame press conferences? So when Tammy answered the phone late Sunday night and handed it to Ron, he was flabbergasted and honored that Sirianni had name-dropped him in public.

“This,” he said, “is quite a surprise.”

No one who closely follows the Eagles had any familiarity with Snyder’s background; he was just a mysterious name that Sirianni had seemed to conjure out of nowhere. But at the heart of every mystery is the story of someone’s life and its connection to other lives, and the one between Snyder and the Siriannis is strong and spans generations.

Fran Sirianni, Nick’s father, was Snyder’s high school coach. Snyder had starred for Southwestern, in Jamestown, in the early 1980s. A 6-foot-tall left-hander who was an all-conference safety as a sophomore before starting at quarterback in his junior and senior years, he was an object of fascination and admiration for Nick, who at the time was a ball boy for Southwestern. The two of them, the standout QB and the coach’s youngest son, would play catch after games, but as much as Nick Sirianni thought of Snyder, the esteem in which he held him didn’t compare to Snyder’s regard for Fran and the whole family.

“He was a great guy, a great coach,” Snyder said. “You always hear people say, ‘Besides my dad, my coach …’ It was that kind of relationship. I always thought he and I had a special kind of coach-quarterback relationship. He could look at me and give me a little hand signal, back before hand signals were something, and we would know what to do, what play to run. It was a fun time and a good relationship.”

Over his nine years as Southwestern’s head coach, Fran was mostly a reflection of his era, using a conservative, run-oriented system — the wishbone or the Wing-T. But Snyder was skilled and dedicated enough that Fran trusted him with a measure of freedom that he hadn’t afforded other quarterbacks. “He passes hard when he has to and can pass with a touch when he has to,” Fran told the Jamestown Post-Journal in October 1983, during Snyder’s senior season. “I wish I could take credit for that, but that’s something you can’t coach.”

Snyder threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns over two early games that year, and he was the first Southwestern quarterback to finish a season with more than 1,000 passing yards. “He would take command of the field and what would happen,” Tammy said. “He was fun to watch. You can see how that would be enticing to a little kid.” Without the modern array of resources that are available to young athletes to help them improve — instructional websites, videos on YouTube — he would buy and read the Buffalo News and other local newspapers to study up on his opponents, then ask his coaches, or anyone else with a modicum of expertise, for insights and advice.

It is easy, once you learn those details, to understand how Nick Sirianni could draw a line from Snyder to Smith, who usually arrives at the NovaCare Complex each morning before the rest of his teammates, who at 23 is already precocious in his ability to run his routes and diligent in his work to develop and refine his skills.

“I think I enjoyed the game more than most of the guys I played with,” Snyder said. “I was always out there, throwing the ball, working on my craft, trying to get better.”

He went on to be an all-conference pitcher at Thiel College in Greenville, Pa., a Division III program, but his football career ended just a year out of high school, when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament during a Thanksgiving-weekend pickup game with his buddies. The memories of those days, though, are never far away. Fran Sirianni is 74 and still lives in Jamestown, and whenever he stops in to get his car serviced, he and Snyder chat about Nick and his fortunes in Philadelphia.

“I’m super, super happy for Nick and his dad,” Snyder said. “He’s so proud of Nick. Oh, my God. They are all really good people, and it’s such a good feeling knowing that someone from our small town has made it in the NFL.”

The Siriannis are not his only living link to the sport. The other is his son, Cole, a redshirt sophomore quarterback for Rutgers, who always takes the time to play catch with several children after each Scarlet Knights game. “I tell him all the time,” Ron Snyder said. “With your position, where you’re at, if you give these kids a little bit of time, they’re going to remember you for the rest of your life.”

If you’re a good football player, yes. Yes, they will.