CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Sam Schnee was a game-changing talent at Dubuque Senior.
He’s already made the University of Northern Iowa coaches take notice.
A three-year standout at running back at Senior and the 2017 TH Football Player of the Year, Schnee expects to see the field again this season, and his coaches tend to agree. The redshirt freshman has a new position, though, after transitioning into the wide receiver group over the offseason.
His running back skillset will serve him well along the boundary.
“Not that our guys don’t have it or the guys in our room aren’t tough, but Sam brings an added piece of toughness, quickness and speed that I’m really excited about,” UNI receivers coach Isaac Fruechte said. “He’s a good kid that can pick stuff up quick in terms of the offense and learn and play multiple positions, but definitely that toughness aspect is something that I’m really enjoying from his game. He’s showing it every single day and that’s what I keep talking about with all our guys is being consistent, being tough, being physical, being fast, and doing the right thing, and that’s something that Sam’s doing a really good job of.”
Schnee saw limited special teams action as a true freshman, playing on the kickoff unit in the Panthers’ FCS playoff game against Lamar. Because of a new NCAA rule implemented last year, players can appear in up to four games and retain their redshirt status.
“That felt really good,” Schnee said. “I was a little nervous, but that’s what you come here to do.”
That route will be the quickest for Schnee to get back on the field this season. Panthers coach Mark Farley noted that Schnee had added 15 pounds of muscle to his 5-foot, 10-inch frame and was checking in at 195 pounds in camp.
“He came in as a walk-on last year and all three of those guys are very similar,” Farley said, comparing Schnee to UNI offensive linemen and former Dubuque County standouts Colton Lueck and Billy Blaser. “All three have the same makeup. They can make it because of their intensity and their perseverance. Two critical things you’ve got to have to make it, and they’re going to make it. Sam’s already shown that after one year. Where he falls this year, who knows. But right now … when you get into special teams talks and things like that this early in camp, his name shows up, which, for a redshirt walk-on freshman, that’s a big deal.”
Schnee said prior to coming to UNI that he was open to switching positions in college. Receiver was at the top of his list. He said he can play outside or in the slot.
“It’s good to know multiple positions so I can make an impact,” he said. “I played some receiver in high school, so it helps. If you can play running back and receiver, it’s just easier to get on the field, so I don’t mind at all.”
Schnee ran for 1,410 yards and 10 touchdowns in nine games in his final season at Senior. He also led the Rams in receiving, catching 28 passes for 432 yards and five TDs, and in addition to being named TH Player of the Year he was named the Iowa Class 4A District 6 co-offensive player of the year.
He finished his prep career with a school-record 2,934 rushing yards and 35 total touchdowns.
“Playing running back helps because you’re getting your nose in everything,” Schnee said. “You’re not afraid to get up in people’s face, run people over. The shiftiness helps a lot, too.”
That pedigree will likely play into his favor a little further down the line.
“With his running back background, he has the knowledge already of the run game more in depth than a lot of these receivers do, but he also has the ability to get the ball out of the backfield on reverses and stuff like that,” Fruechte said. “The way he’s going to make his mark No. 1 is on special teams for sure, but that’s something that we’re constantly evaluating. The more he can be trusted on special teams, the more he can be trusted in playing positions on the offense. So, he’s doing exactly what he needs to do in terms of that and he’s really developing. Right now, it’s learning the offense and making sure he knows what route he has or what blocking assignment he has.”
It’s still unclear where Schnee fits into the pecking order in the receivers group. The Panthers return three wideouts with starting experience, plus Missouri Valley Conference newcomer of the year Deion McShane.
“Personally, I want to get on the field,” Schnee said. “I feel like I could. I have the potential, but I need to show the production. I just have to keep working hard in practice, keep learning, get my head in the playbook and I think good things will happen.”