HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- The Hanover Hawks football team practices in the gym on a rainy Tuesday, kept inside by the remnants of Hurricane Florence.
It's not an ideal situation in which to teach the fundamentals of a very outdoor game, but head coach Derek Stoudt and his staff make the best of it.
Tyler Snow is going through his first full season as the Hawks' defensive coordinator. Above every other sport that he has played, football struck a chord within him that he hopes to strike in his current players.
"I really love the camaraderie of this sport, the team aspect of the sport," Snow explained. "And how important it is to rely on the guy next to you."
"He always believes in us," said Hawks junior lineman Stephen Castle. "He always tell us to go hard. He's a guy that pushes you to go further."
Snow grew up in Roanoke and played collegiately at James Madison under former head coach Mickey Mathews and his staff. It was a phone call from Stoudt to former JMU line coach Jeff Hanson that cemented his spot on the Hawks staff.
"I called coach Hanson, Jeff Hanson, and he was like, 'Coach, that's probably one of my favorite guys I've ever coached,' Stoudt recalled. "At that point right there, I was like 'perfect'"
"It wasn't anything about [his] resume, it was what type of guy he was and what type of playing career he had and what he's been through. I love the guy."
"I've been so blessed to have those individuals have such an impact on my life and be able to help me figure out how to handle hard times, how to handle challenging circumstances and also how to celebrate those good times that we have together," Snow said.
Two years ago, Snow's wife, through her work with Young Life ministries, had a chance to go to Puerto Rico and she and Tyler relocated to the island where they both taught and he coached the game of American football to kids for whom baseball and soccer are pseudo religions.
"It was an opportunity that I was working outside the culture I grew up in," Snow said. "And learning the things I might be focused on are not always the important things within a different culture."
Last year, Snow's wife returned to the states to attend a friend's wedding. Tyler stayed in Puerto Rico where Hurricane Irma knocked out power for two weeks. Just days after it was restored, Hurricane Maria hit with a devastation the island had never seen before.
"The day before, you walk out and look at the mountainside and it's totally green," Snow recalled. "The next day you walk out, every tree is turned over, not a leaf on a tree. It was totally devastating."
Snow's house was flooded with 5 feet of water, but he considered himself lucky. Many people lost everything, including their lives.
"A lot of the problems we face here are first world problems," Snow explained. "I saw firsthand what it's like to deal with problems of basic necessities, foot and water, shelter, safety and you're making sure you're protecting your neighbors, your friends and everyone around you."
Those images and stories have stayed with Snow. He brings them out at times he feels are appropriate to give his players some perspective and some inspiration.
"You never know when you're going to face hard circumstances in life, where you're going to be faced with challenging environments, and that's very true of the game of football," Snow said.
"The number one thing is how do you respond in those moments. I use that often to communicate to the kids. So much has to do with our mindset and our effort and our ability to work with those around us."
"What is hard? What is hard times? What is struggle?" Stoudt asked rhetorically. "He's been through something that a lot of people are lucky to say they've never been through and are never gonna go through."
"You can tell he's a man of character," Castle added. "He definitely wants us to be better men."
"I think the most powerful thing in this world is love," Snow said. "Students are very honest when they can see that you care about them and that you truly love them and that you want what's best for them."
Snow returned to the states a week or so after the storm had cleared. He and his wife have been helping to organize relief efforts for the people of Puerto Rico ever since.
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