For former Westerville Central High School football standout Benny Snell, the opportunity to play in the NFL is a dream come true.
That the Pittsburgh Steelers made his dream reality is equally as exciting for the 5-foot-10, 224-pound running back, who believes he’s a perfect fit for the team’s hard-nosed style.
The Steelers selected Snell, who decided to forgo his senior season at the University of Kentucky, in the fourth round of the NFL draft (No. 122 overall) on April 27.
“I felt like in the bottom of my heart that this is where I belong because of my style of football and how I run the ball,” Snell said in a teleconference following his selection.
101-year-old US Navy Veteran Charles Wiggins announced our 4th-round pick, RB Benny Snell Jr.#SteelersDraft |@benny_snellpic.twitter.com/ziJbUpUEXW— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers)April 27, 2019
Former Central coach John Magistro called it a proud moment for Snell’s family and the Warhawks program. Snell graduated from Central in 2016.
“What a great accomplishment,” said Magistro, who coached the Warhawks from 2009-17. “I’m really happy for him, especially when you know what time and effort he put into it. It just didn’t come easy for Benny. Benny had to go to work and he did it. When he gets in there, they’re going to love him. He’s got that ingredient that you can’t coach and I’m sure they’re going to pick up on it really quick.”
During a press conference after the selection, Steelers running backs coach Eddie Faulkner said the team is excited about Snell’s skill set and positive attitude.
“It’s very evident when you sit down with this young man the passion he has for the game, how much he loves it, how much he likes being around it,” Faulkner said. “We were interested in finding somebody who had a passion and just loves football and that’s Benny Snell.
“As soon as you turn on his tape and watch how he plays the game, he mirrors that same amount of passion. He plays physical. He plays hard. He represents the Steeler brand as you watch him play.”
Snell is the second Warhawks football player to be drafted, joining 2011 graduate Nick Vannett, who was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round (No. 94 overall) in 2016. Vannett, a tight end who played at Ohio State, had a career-high 269 yards receiving and three touchdowns this past season.
Seattle visits Pittsburgh on Sept. 15, which is the second week of the NFL season.
Snell also will follow in the footsteps of another area product in 2010 Groveport graduate Le’Veon Bell, who played for Pittsburgh for five years and now is with the New York Jets after sitting out last season because of a contract dispute. Snell will wear No. 26, which is the number he wore at Kentucky and the same number Bell donned for the Steelers.
Snell is expected to contend with James Conner for playing time. Conner replaced Bell as the Steelers’ featured back last season, rushing for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns on 215 carries.
“I’m a different player than James,” Snell said. “He’s done an amazing job filling in the spot and being that guy. I’m very impressed with how he was in college and how he overcame things, and I’m ready to work with him. I’m excited.”
Conner, who is a cancer survivor, played collegiately at Pittsburgh.
Snell’s great uncle, Matt Snell, played for the Jets from 1964-72 and helped them upset the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III in 1969.
“I’ve only really gotten the opportunity to talk with him two times because right now he is very old,” Snell said. “But I get to watch his highlights and I get to learn from him every time I watch. I like to mirror my game after a great one like him.”
Snell left Kentucky as its all-time leader in rushing yards (3,873), total touchdowns (48), rushing touchdowns (48) and 100-yard rushing games (19).
As a senior at Central, he was named first-team all-state and district Offensive Player of the Year in Division I. He rushed for 1,826 yards and 26 touchdowns on 247 carries, capped by 241 yards and three scores in a 49-24 loss to Euclid in a second-round playoff game as the Warhawks finished 10-2.
As a junior, Snell rushed for 2,077 yards and 26 touchdowns on 295 carries. He was named first-team all-state and all-district and helped lead the Warhawks to the playoffs.