Snyder aims to leave mark in final year as Sages QB

Snyder aims to leave mark in final year as Sages QB

MONTICELLO — The slight bead of sweat trickled down the bridge of Braden Snyder's nose on Wednesday morning.

A hit song well before the Monticello senior quarterback was born — Guns N' Roses' "Welcome To the Jungle" — blared through the speakers stationed directly behind him.

The sun wasn't out in full force, with dense fog covering the area just before 6:45 a.m., the grass practice field glistening from the remnants of the overnight dew.

Didn't matter to Snyder, decked out in a white Monticello practice jersey, orange shorts and his yellow helmet in his right hand.

The area's returning passing leader remained focused.

On watching his teammates go through the early rigors of a workout.

On keeping the tradition of successful quarterbacks at Monticello intact.

And on making sure the Sages are once again a program, led by 10th-year coach Cully Welter, that leaves its mark on the playoffs.

"Every year, you fully expect to go to the playoffs when you're at Monticello," said Snyder, back for his second season directing the Sages' offense after throwing for 2,447 yards, 17 touchdowns and completing 66 percent of his passes in 2017. "There's not too much pressure with it. You become more confident. You know with Coach Welter and the guys we have, every year there's a shot we can go a long way."

Confidence is high again in Piatt County this football season. Rightly so. Monticello — The News-Gazette's No. 3 team in its preseason Top 10 poll — will try to reach the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season when the 2018 campaign kicks off on Aug. 24 at home against Olympia. Snyder spearheads the Sages' high-octane offense and has the respect of his teammates.

"Braden could be really cocky because he's really good, but he's not cocky at all," senior Jack Spence said. "He's just really humble, and that's what I like most about him. He never flaunts it."

Senior Alek Bundy and sophomore Chris Brown are capable options in the backfield, and Snyder will have a plethora of veteran receivers to throw to, led by seniors Asher Bradd (50 receptions for 633 yards, five TDs in 2017) and Devin Graham (29 catches for 526 yards, 4 TDs).

"With the receivers," Welter said, "we're pretty experienced."

Not so much on the offensive line. The Sages will need to replace three starters in that unit off last year's 9-2 team that reached the second round of the Class 3A playoffs before losing 21-20 in heart-breaking fashion at Byron.

"Yes, it's a big concern," Welter said about his offensive line, where senior Riley Austin will serve as the key cog. "That'll be the key for us is how fast we grow up there."

Gone on defense is the unquestioned playmaker in recent seasons for the Sages. Linebacker Nathan Harman graduated, taking his team-high 126 tackles with him to Northern Illinois, where he's a walk-on with the Huskies this fall. No worries.

Spence (78 tackles) and fellow seniors Cole Reedy (41 tackles) are back after playing prominent roles last season for a defense coordinated by former Illinois linebacker Brit Miller.

"Like Coach Miller says, we had a lion in Nate Harman," Spence said. "This year, we're just hyenas. Everybody has got to be coming to the ball."

It helps, too, with three returning starters in the secondary — Bradd, Bundy and Graham. Both Bradd and Bundy each nabbed four interceptions last season.

"We've been putting in work since early summer," Bundy said. "I just can't wait to see how it plays out for us."

The Sages will have their hands full with a nine-game slate of Illini Prairie Conference opponents as the league enters its second year of existence. Four of those foes — Bloomington Central Catholic, Pontiac, Prairie Central and Unity — made the playoffs a year ago, so even with the recent run of success Monticello is on, making sure the Sages play the final weekend in October isn't necessarily guaranteed.

"We found out last year in the conference, even some of the teams in the middle of the road gave us fits at the end of the year," Welter said. "We were fortunate to win a couple games. You've got your normal teams that are going to be at the top, but then those middle teams are tough as well."

With a savvy signal-caller in Snyder, breakaway athletes in Bundy, Bradd and Graham on offense, plus the talented defensive returnees, another potentially promising season looms in Monticello. One that starts in two weeks and features five home games for the Sages.

"It gets me jacked up," Bundy said of the home atmosphere Monticello plays in front of. "We run out right before the game starts, and when you hear everybody going crazy, you can't help but go crazy a little bit, too."

Crazy with composure and confidence mixed in. Snyder epitomizes the mixture needed to guide the Sages.

"I live about 10 minutes away from the school, so on the drive here on Friday nights, there's people out and about going to restaurants before the game," Snyder said. "Everyone is in their Sages' gear during school that day. Once you walk out of the locker room and onto the field — there's no track around our field — you start to hear the crowd, and it can get pretty loud. It's just a cool atmosphere to be in."

Tale of the tape

Coach: Cully Welter (75-26 in nine seasons at Monticello)

2018 schedule

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 24 vs. Olympia 7 p.m.

Aug. 31 vs. Chillicothe IVC 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 at St. Thomas More 7 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Rantoul 7 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Bloomington CC 7 p.m.

Sept. 28 vs. Unity 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 at Pontiac 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 vs. Prairie Central 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 at St. Joseph-Ogden 7 p.m.

Monticello's must-win game is ... at Pontiac, Oct. 5. This may not be the first game a lot of Sages fans circle on the calendar, but a 70-mile trip to take on a larger school coming off a 6-4 record is one Monticello won't want to overlook as it fights for an Illini Prairie Conference title.

A look back

Last year’s leading passer was ... Braden Snyder, who went 166 of 250 and threw for 2,447 yards and 17 touchdowns in his junior season.

Last year’s leading rusher was ... Lucas Lieb, who ran 101 times for 715 yards and 12 touchdowns in his senior season.

Last year’s leading receiver was ... Asher Bradd, who hauled in 50 passes for 633 yards and five touchdowns during his junior season.

Last year’s leading tackler was ... Nathan Harman, who compiled 126 total stops as a senior.

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