Getting in the wheelbarrow

Head Coach Steve Snyder explains what makes Queen’s Football special  

The Gaels celebrate with Queen's bands after their semi-final victory over uOttawa.
Photo: 
Since the pandemic began in 2020, Queen’s Football has recorded an impressive 18 wins to only three losses—all at the hands of the country-best Western Mustangs. 
 
In a tell-all interview with The Journal, Head Coach Steve Snyder unpacked Queen’s Football culture and the elements which have led to its success. For Snyder, the pursuit of cultural and on field success follows a simple and repeatable pattern: start by bringing in the right people—from athletes to coaches and staff—and then grow from there.
 
“We really focused on guys who were driven to graduate, guys that were passionate about the process of football, which really just means all the preparation and work behind the scenes, and guys that were respectful and responsible,” Snyder said.
 
 
Gaels sing the oil thigh.  Photo: Curtis Heinzl
 
The Queen’s football team has been focused on becoming the most respected team on campus and in the Kingston community. Although lofty, this aspiration can be broken into two more digestible parts: on field success and community impact. 
 
“Ultimately, sure we are trying to win football games and championships, but there is much more we are trying to accomplish. We are actually trying to enhance the experience at Queen’s for everybody here,” Snyder said. 
 
This process starts with recruitment, where they focus on bringing in reliable players. To Queen’s Football, reliability means more than speed, power, or intelligence—they want students willing to consistently put in the work.
 
During the recruitment process, players receive “stamps” or ratings in three categories. 
 
The first is the ‘Dawg’ stamp. This recognizes a student as an amazing player on the field, while the second stamp—the ‘Scholar’ stamp—highlights a player’s desire to graduate and invest in their academics. The last stamp denotes a player who demonstrates exceptional personal character.  A recipient of all three stamps earns the ‘Our Kinda Gael’ title and a spot on the team. 
 
On field success begins during practice with the work athletes put in and their mindsets. Snyder believes in the power of repetition and frequently uses metaphors to help his players get as invested as he is. 
 
Although eccentric and a tad absurd, these ideas work, as athletes are quick to mention the wheelbarrow, laying bricks, and “Queen’s brand of football” in their interviews. 
 
A story about a man crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope anchors Snyder’s philosophy. In the story, a man ties a rope across the Falls and defies gravity by successfully crossing it. Afterward, he asks his amazed audience if they think he could do it while pushing a wheelbarrow. When he’s met with resounding support and encouragement, he then asks them to fully buy into what he is doing and put a volunteer inside the wheelbarrow. 
 
The Queen’s Football program is like a wheelbarrow being pushed across the Falls: it needs support, trust, and players who are willing to buy in. Snyder has developed a culture capable of just that. According to him, the team has fully committed to “[getting] in the wheelbarrow.” 
 
However, they won’t stop with just one analogy; Queen’s Football uses a “buck a brick” mentality to focus on the work they put in each day.
 
“In football, you don’t get paid by the hour,” Snyder said. 
 
“It’s not like if you just go and stand around you are going to get rewarded. In football you are only rewarded for the actual work you put in. So, it’s like you are getting paid for each brick you lay, not just being there for an hour.”
 
These bricks build the foundation of the team. They ensure that no matter what, the team has a discipline and reliable base to fall back on.
 
This season, the brick base helped the team remain solid in the face of adversity. Queen’s many injuries should have derailed their season, but even their starting quarterback ending up on crutches halfway through the season couldn’t phase them.
 
“For some teams, that would have just crushed them, but we actually just got stronger and that’s just a credit to the buy in and the way we do things here. We never once felt sorry for ourselves; we didn’t get distracted and we never stopped believing,” Snyder said.
 
The countless bricks have paid off. The program has established a foundation rooted in reliability, commitment, and investment.
 
“We just demanded that they stayed in the wheelbarrow and believed in themselves,” Snyder said.
 
Queen’s Football established a brotherhood this season. They created a family dynamic that set them apart on the field. 
 
“I think one thing that is unique about our team is how much they support, encourage, and stick up for each other out on the field,” Snyder said. 
 
“Our team takes great pride in picking each other up off the ground and sticking up for each other if they are outnumbered after a play and encouraging each other after not only big plays, but also big mistakes.”
 
Raheem Balogun Jr. is all business. Photo: Curtis Heinzl
 
This “one field culture” was extremely evident during their last game of the season against Western. Football is an emotional battle, especially when facing a bitter rival. 
 
Watch the Yates Cup stream and see Queen’s players helping each other up. Watch running back Jared Chisari get tackled into the Mustangs bench at the end of the first, then have receiver Josh Macleod immediately rush in after him even though the play is dead. Watch Macleod stand by Chisari’s side and pick him up amidst the sea of purple. Watch and understand how this team stands together no matter what happens.
 
Win or lose, the football team embodies a culture of support and perseverance Snyder thinks can be applied to the greater Queen’s community.
 
“That’s, I think, what Queen’s students should do as well: they should look out for each other on campus and in the community.”
 
Historically, football games at Queen’s were a huge deal. Students would flood the stadium to support their Golden Gaels. However, as the team regressed and the main field moved to West Campus in the 70s, the hype around football and football tradition died down. 
 
Fortunately, Snyder is set on “trying to bring back that heavy, heavy student presence which was always a staple of Queen’s football.”
 
The history within Queen’s football is unique and should be celebrated. 
 
From the one-of-a-kind vintage uniforms to enthusiastic Queen’s Bands and flying cheerleaders, football games extend beyond just 150 yards. Queen’s gets just four home games a year—Snyder believes these games can be the catalyst for renewed school spirit. 
 
“The idea is that all four of those home games are like a party and an escape for the students where they can come out and put on those colours, turn loose, and just have fun supporting their team, being around each other and creating an atmosphere that is so unique.”
 
“There’s just something about all the students being in the crowd and the stadium being full.”
 
Queen’s Football goes beyond the field, beyond its star players and biggest rivals. It stares into the student experience and is pushing for change. The team wants to be the most respected in Kingston, revered for ferociously cultivating ideas and a positive culture.
 
“This is their football team,” Snyder said of all Queen’s students.
 
“This is their school, and they can be a part of it. They can make an impact on a team and that’s what they need to understand. We want the experience at Queen’s to be better because the football team exists.”
 
Check out Queen's Football on instagram @queensfootball

 Quarterback James Keenan runs the ball. Photo: Curtis Heinzl

 

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