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Michigan State's Darius Snow brings speed, physicality and versatility to Spartan defense

Michigan State has a Swiss Army Knife in its junior linebacker...

Darius Snow is the definition of a Swiss Army Knife for Michigan State’s defense. The junior spent much of his first two seasons in East Lansing playing safety and nickelback for the Spartans, but Snow moves to linebacker for MSU in 2022.

Yet, even though there will be an ‘LB’ next to Snow’s name on the roster, the junior doesn’t like to label himself with just one position.

“I feel like an athlete that is playing linebacker,” Snow said. “I play a lot of WILL. If needed, I can play MIKE as well, and then I’m still going to play nickel as well. If needed, like Coach Tuck said, potentially down the line there could be some packages to put me back there at safety. I think the biggest thing for me is being versatile and being able to do a lot, so whenever I can be in a certain position I can do it.”

Snow’s physical abilities are just part of the reason he’s been able to move all across the field on defense. Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Scottie Hazelton noted Snow’s football IQ, stating that the junior’s understanding of the game is another big reason for his versatility.

“The thing about Snow is this, he’s a young man that has a tremendous understanding of football,” Hazelton said. “Because he’s played safety and he’s played nickel and now he’s playing backer, he understands how all the pieces fit together.

“To have another guy on the field who can communicate like a safety and do some of the coverage skills of a nickel at linebacker [is] good.”

Snow’s move to linebacker was an interesting decision by Michigan State’s coaching staff. The Spartans have depth at the position even without Snow, with guys like Cal Haladay, Ben VanSumeren, Aaron Brule and Jacoby Windmon already in the position group.

However, Hazelton said that Snow will bring more flexibility to the position with his unique speed and coverage skills.

“He’s just an asset to have…this is really what a WILL linebacker is,” the defensive coordinator said. “You prefer to have a big, strong safety-type in there. Then, if you need to match up a guy or do something with that, it gives you the ability to do that a little bit more, because you’re not just playing with big ol’, no-neck linebackers that can’t run. You’re playing with athletes out there that have to make plays.

“When we do play zone, those guys have to play in space and cover ground, and they’re going to end up on a receiver coming across the field and have to make a tackle in big, open space. Or, they have to take a running back who comes out [of the backfield], and those guys are good athletes too, so we like to match that.”

Snow is not lacking in confidence in his coverage skills, having grown accustomed to being matched up with receivers as a nickelback and safety.

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“I’ve always been comfortable covering,” Snow said. “I know every single ball that was caught on me, and there was only three balls that were caught on me of a certain distance. I’m very confident in covering. I feel that if I had to go out there and cover a receiver, I’m confident in myself to do that.”

Beyond the benefits that Snow will bring to Michigan State at a linebacker, Michigan State’s coaching staff believes the position switch is what’s best for Snow’s future in football.

“I believe that’s a natural position for him,” head coach Mel Tucker said of Snow. “He’s a big guy, he’s a physical player and he does have versatility. There still may be a role for him in our secondary, and some packages, because of his versatility, but he has a nose for the ball and, obviously, he has the pedigree.

“He looked really good during the spring, and so we feel like that’s good for him here and beyond. We really feel like that’s his future.”

That pedigree comes from a father, Eric Snow, who played basketball for the Spartans, as well as an uncle, Percy Snow, who was a two-time All-American at linebacker for Michigan State and eventually inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Having an uncle who played the position at an All-American level is certainly a resource for Darius to tap into as the 2022 season approaches.

“I called him once and he just said the same thing he always says, ‘Play hard and hit somebody when you get the chance to,” the younger Snow said with a smile.

The transition from the secondary to linebacker has gone smoothly for Snow, who has put his football IQ to good use this offseason.

“I thought that it would be a lot harder than it was, but my overall knowledge of the defense was quite defined,” Snow said. “Really, it was just the small techniques that I had to learn, because, obviously, I wasn’t in the room. But, now I know the entire defense.”

Snow trusts his coaches’ decision to move him to linebacker, with the understanding that he could still be utilized at nickel and maybe even safety in 2022. Regardless of where he lines up to start a play, Snow is ready to do his part in helping Michigan State’s defense improve this season.

“It was a coaches’ decision,” Snow said of the position change. “They said it was the best for my future, and I trust the coaches, so that’s why I moved. In high school, I had no intention to do it. I was a 6-foot, 190 [pound] safety.

“At the end of the day, I’m a football player that makes plays. I go out there and make plays. It doesn’t really matter, in my opinion, where I’m at on the field – I’m going to make plays. So, as long as you’re making plays it really don’t matter what position you play. That’s the way I see it.”