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Inside the CFL: Alouettes' Tyler Snead is short in stature, big in talent

The 5-foot-7, 180-pound rookie receiver from North Carolina is becoming a key component of Montreal's offence.

Alouettes wide receiver Tyson Philpot (6) celebrates his touchdown against the Toronto Argonauts with teammate Tyler Snead in Montreal on Sept.15, 2023. "I've lost track of how many times I was told I was too small," the 23-year-old rookie says. "It rubs off my shoulders because I'm so used to it and always provided extra motivation."
Alouettes wide-receiver Tyson Philpot (6) celebrates his touchdown against the Argonauts with teammate Tyler Snead in Montreal on Sept.15, 2023. "I've lost track of how many times I was told I was too small," the 23-year-old rookie Snead says. Photo by Christinne Muschi /The Canadian Press

While Tyler Snead might have hoped genetics would skip a generation, he quickly came to realize at a young age that being vertically challenged was in his future.

But Snead also knew he came from an athletic family. His father, Scott, was a minor-league shortstop in the Cincinnati Reds’ organization, while his mother, Michelle, was a national champion cheerleader at North Carolina State. Both are small and repeatedly stressed the message that a short stature should never be a barrier in the pursuit of excellence.

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“I’ve lost track of how many times I was told I was too small,” the 23-year-old rookie Alouettes receiver told the Montreal Gazette this week. “It rubs off my shoulders because I’m so used to it and it always provided extra motivation. I’ve grown up like this my whole life. My dad taught me to keep chipping away and work harder. I may not be the fastest, strongest or smartest. Control what you can control and go as hard as you can every play.

“My dad used to say don’t think of it as a chip on your shoulder. Think of it as a boulder.”

Only 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, Snead was at the bottom of the Alouettes’ depth chart at training camp and started the season on the practice roster. Injuries created an opening and Snead was activated. He hasn’t looked back.

On a team desperate for offensive playmakers to assist Austin Mack, the CFL’s leading receiver, Snead has brought much to the table and is playing bigger than his size. He gets open, has proved reliable and isn’t afraid to block bigger defenders. Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game at Ottawa (4 p.m., TSN1, TSN5, RDS, TSN Radio-690, 98.5 FM), Snead has 40 catches for 583 yards (14.6-yard average) along with five touchdowns — three coming during a loss against Toronto. He has played 11 games.

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None of this is a surprise to Snead, a native of Raleigh, N.C., who discovered as a youth he had excellent hand/eye co-ordination. A baseball outfielder as a teenager, he found the pace of that game too slow and preferred the contact that came with football.

A walk-on at East Carolina University, he eventually earned a scholarship and majored in communications. Snead dressed for 27 career games, making 201 receptions for 2,385 yards and 18 touchdowns. He returned punts and kickoffs, including two for touchdowns, scored one rushing major while passing for three more.

He’s the fourth-leading receiver in school history behind Zay Jones, Justin Hardy and Dwayne Harris, all of whom made it to the NFL. Twice a second team all-American, Snead once caught 19 passes in a 2019 shootout loss to SMU. Although eligible to play two more seasons with the Pirates, Snead left school early, signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022 as an undrafted free agent. Despite catching five passes for 27 yards in three exhibition games and scoring the game-winning touchdown against Jacksonville, Snead was released. He signed with the Alouettes in January.

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Montreal management has been impressed with Snead’s route running, versatility and football IQ. He’ll do anything to catch the ball, even torquing his body.

“I knew he was a tough little bugger, but his ability to block hasn’t gone unnoticed,” general manager Danny Maciocia said. “He’s one of our strongest players, pound-for-pound. It’s not how big you are. It’s how big you play.”

Added receivers coach Mike Lionello: “You can plug him in anywhere and trust him to get the job done. At his size, with his speed and acceleration, he’s hard to cover.”

While still early in his career, it’s hard not to compare Snead with the legendary Ben Cahoon, himself only 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds. Cahoon spent 13 seasons with Montreal, rarely dropping a pass from quarterback Anthony Calvillo. Snead, a student of the game, is familiar with Cahoon’s accomplishments and often looks skyward at Molson Stadium, where Cahoon’s name and number hang following his jersey retirement.

“I’ve tried to outwork everybody to make it this far,” Snead said in his engaging North Carolina drawl. “Never take a play off. Always be the hardest one going to work. I’ve been trying to outwork everybody while knowing the playbook like the back of my hand. That’s the quickest way to the field. If you don’t know what to do, you can’t be out there. And I try to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way.”

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Away from the field, Snead lives in a downtown Montreal hotel with many of his rookie teammates. He likes to visit restaurants on Ste- Catherine St. and explore the Old Port. He quickly discovered poutine and was amazed by the different combinations that can be spread over french fries.

The second-oldest of four children, but the only boy, Snead likes to say he has four mother figures watching over him. His three sisters were at the game against Toronto on July 14 and Snead presented each of them with the balls used to score his touchdowns.

Meanwhile, he hopes his future remains in Montreal and he can serve as an inspiration for other undersized players.

“You’re never too small,” he said. “You can do anything you put your mind to. Control the controllable and try to outwork everybody.”

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