In college recruiting, Division I coaches can't officially reach out to a prospect until Sept. 1 before their junior year of high school. But that doesn't keep coaches from eyeing young and upcoming talent or making contact with intermediaries.
That was the case with Jay Johnson, the former head baseball coach at Nevada, and McQueen High standout Robby Snelling. Johnson knew Snelling was something special when the Reno native was only a seventh-grader. That's when Johnson first told Snelling he was an "offerable player" at the college level. Five years later, Snelling finally accepted it, only with a twist.
Johnson left his job at Arizona for the post at LSU in June, and despite getting one of college baseball's top jobs, that didn't water down Johnson's enthusiasm for Snelling, who last month verbally committed to play for the Tigers.
“He was the first offer that I ever had," Snelling told Nevada Sports Net. "So it was definitely super cool. My travel coach introduced me to him and was like, ‘Hey, this is a guy you need to get on,’ so that was definitely super cool for me, for my coach to think that highly of me to introduce me to him at such a young age. That's kind of where the relationship started.”
Snelling kept in contact with Johnson throughout his baseball career and was almost ready to commit to Arizona before the coach's move. When Johnson went to LSU, Snelling was a bit taken back.
“When I found out the news that Johnson was leaving Arizona, I was super bummed because I was pretty close to making my decision to go there," Snelling said. "Just because the mesh of how football and baseball was going to be there and it was it was going to work out really slick and then Jay left. I was just like, ‘Well, that's a little bit of a bummer for me because it's kind of up in the air about who the coach is going to be.’ And I've become super close with coach Johnson. It kind of threw me for a loop.”
Snelling, who also is a four-star football recruit as an athlete, fortuitously had a baseball tournament in Louisiana and visited the LSU campus. That helped sell him on heading to the SEC.
“We went out to Louisiana for the baseball tournament," Snelling said. "I got a chance to go out there and walk around the campus and it was the second day that Jay was in Louisiana. He got there and brought his family over and his wife was looking for a house and he was touring us around the field. Then he had to do some work. So we got on the golf cart with one of the assistants and he drove us around campus. It was awesome. I love Louisiana. The South, I really think that's an area that I want to be in my future, in my life. Being able to go out there and experience everything was super cool.”
With dozens of Power 5 offers in both football and baseball, Snelling said it was the personal bond he shared with Johnson that ultimately guided his decision in attending LSU. Snelling has known Johnson for a third of his life and felt more comfortable putting his future career in his hands.
“I really think he's going to treat me like family more so than other people,” Snelling shared. “Just because we have that connection from him coaching down here and then just how long our recruiting process has been together. It was funny when I told him that I was committed. He was like, 'We're meeting with Coach Kelly, Jason Kelly, the new pitching coach they got there, and Coach Johnson turns to him after I told him everything and he was, like, ‘Man, it took me four years to get this guy to commit. And it took you one time meeting with him to commit.’
"So that was pretty funny. It just kind of shows like how long our recruiting process has been, a serious recruiting process. And I mean, it's definitely super cool for me to be able to tell him face to face when we were in Florida. He was down there watching some of the players and watching me pitch and I met with him the next day. It was super cool to be able to not have to do it over the phone. Doing it in person made it a lot more special.”
Although LSU's’ newest recruit has committed to a college program, it’s fair to wonder if he'll ever step foot in Baton Rogue, La. Snelling has played in some of the top high school showcase games this summer and could be a high pick in the 2022 MLB draft. He'll have the option of forgoing college and turning pro, although he hasn't made any decisions yet. Johnson is known for being among the best college coaches in getting premium talents to forgo a pro career to play in college.
“If I don't get drafted in a spot that I feel would be life changing and it would be kind of not smart to go after the draft, going to LSU is really not that far behind the MLB," Snelling said. "I'll get a similar experience, but one will be more of a full-time job. The other is school and a job. You got to deal with that when it presents itself, and we'll probably find that out within the next eight months. We'll see what happens there. It would be awesome to get drafted and, I mean, having LSU as a backup plan is great as well.”
Snelling held out hope to attend a college that would allow him play both baseball and football. That won't be the case at LSU, which typically has an elite football team. After giving it more thought, Snelling knew focusing on baseball was the right decision for his career.
“That was a super tough decision for me," Snelling said. "I know that playing baseball in the MLB is what I want to do. But I always had that dream of being able to run out into a big college football stadium and having 100,000 people there. And that's just like an experience that I always watched and I wanted to be a part of it. That was super hard to come to terms with, 'Probably not going to get to do that.'
"We got to the point where it was just kind of you got to put your future ahead of what you kind of dreamed of. And so that was a tough decision for me, but I think it's a smart decision. Keeps my body healthy. And it's one thing being a quarterback or a receiver and pitching, but being a linebacker and a pitcher, it would be tough to heal your body after a football season and then going into a baseball season.”
Snelling is entering his senior year at McQueen High, and with that comes his final season playing football for his dad, coach Jim Snelling. While he doesn't foresee playing football in college, he could still play during his senior season for the Lancers, who also boast top running back recruit Ashton Hayes, who has verbally committed to Nebraska. Johnson said he's fine with Snelling playing high school football but would prefer him to focus on only baseball in college.
“I have a lot of mixed emotions about it," Snelling said. "That's my last season under him. I grew up around around the football field. Ever since I was born, I was up there and running around and looking up to all the big high school kids. And when I was in elementary school, dreaming about being like them. I'm really hoping that kids look up to me and all of my teammates the way I did. It's super cool to have gone through this process with my dad.”