The year was 1990.
Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in a South African prison. Driving Miss Daisy won the Academy Award for Best Picture. J.K. Rowling started writing her first Harry Potter book. Pokemon was created. Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence and pop star Iggy Azalea were born.
And the Snyder High School football team qualified for the NJSIAA state football playoffs.
That was the last time the Tigers were part of the postseason.
“Wow!” current Snyder head football coach Ray Marshall said recently. “It’s been a long time.”
“I don’t think I was born yet,” said Tiger wide receiver Nasir Smith.
No, Nasir, you weren’t, unless you’re the world’s oldest high school senior.
It was 26 long years ago. Make that looooooooooooooooooonnnnngggggg years ago.
Because since then, the Tigers have endured their fair share of losing. To be honest, a lot of losing. Make that a whole lot of losing.
Before Marshall arrived last year and led the Tigers to the unthinkable respectability line, going .500 at 5-5, the Tigers’ best win total, over the previous 12 years, was two. There were four winless campaigns and the ungodly 39-game losing streak that Marshall inherited.
The program was dropped in its entirety altogether twice for an assortment of reasons – both on and off the field.
Another year, in 1996, a player named Tahid Ramsey died on the field. It was the last fatality suffered on the field in Hudson County.
In 2013, the Tigers had a three-game stretch where they surrendered 82 points, 70 points and 64 points.
From 2003 through 2014, the Tigers were a collective 12-91 and had six different head coaches.
Needless to say, this program seemed to be beyond repair.
Looking for a chance to be a head coach, Marshall decided to take the job for the 2015 season. Marshall was a former long-time assistant coach under Robert Hampton at Lincoln and a former College All-American kick returner at St. Peter’s College.
Even Marshall knew he was getting into a tough situation.
“The first thing I wanted to do was change the culture,” Marshall said. “I turned them into student/athletes at all times, made them accountable for their actions at all times. I personally held them accountable for what they do.”
That discipline worked last year, when the Tigers posted the five-win total.
“But this year, we wanted to take it to six,” Marshall said. “That was the goal.”
But qualifying for the state playoffs?
“No way,” Marshall said. “That wasn’t a goal. We just wanted to build a team, a program that by the time the freshmen were seniors, they would be respectable.”
However, the Tigers have exceeded Marshall’s expectations in just two years, because the Tigers are indeed going to the state playoffs for the first time since 1990.
The Tigers have clinched a berth in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs. They are currently the fifth seed in the bracket and more than likely will travel to face Parsippany Hills in the opening round of the playoffs next Friday night or Saturday afternoon.
“It’s like a fairy tale,” Marshall said. “It’s a dream that I don’t want to come out of. Everything that has happened is like a miracle. We had a sophomore quarterback who never played the position before and a wide receiver who never even caught a ball. It’s really a fairy tale.”
Just how much? Well, how about Marshall wanting to discipline his starting quarterback Jahleel Baker for grade infractions and inserts senior Elijah Graham in the slot.
“It was a little stressful, but I had the backing of the team,” said Graham, who completed seven of 12 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers’ 22-0 win over Dumont that clinched the state playoff berth. Graham also ran for a touchdown and threw two PAT conversion passes in the win.
“Everyone knows we’re going to run the ball with Nolan [Burns, the Tigers’ sensational running back], but this 5-foot-7, 165-pound kid played like he was there all season,” Marshall said.
“I just wanted to come to Snyder and play the sport that I loved playing since I was eight years old,” Graham said. “Nothing was going to deflect my passion for the sport. I’m very happy and excited to have led the team to the win that got us to the state playoffs. It’s crazy when you think of it. For me, it’s just an honor to play for the Tigers. State playoffs? No way, but I’m going to live for this moment.”
Nasir Smith, a senior wide receiver, was academically ineligible to play last year, but came back this year and has caught 32 passes for more than 500 yards and four touchdowns.
“It’s just crazy to think that we’re in the playoffs,” Smith said. “I think we believed we had a good coach who could show us what to do. But to make the playoffs? It’s crazy. It’s a good feeling and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Senior Titus Whitehead went from being the starting quarterback last year to receiver this year.
“I’m just happy,” said Whitehead, who was the starter at QB in 2014 when the Tigers went 0-10. “I never thought this was possible. This is what every kid dreams about. Once Coach Ray got here, he changed everything.”
Whitehead said that there’s a sense of pride in the school.
“Everyone is asking me about the playoffs,” Whitehead said. “The principal [Yvonne Waller] is talking about us in the daily announcements. Every student knows what we have done. I think they’re proud, too. It’s amazing. I can now wear my Snyder Tigers clothes with pride.”
The Tigers have one more regular season game against Dwight Morrow of Englewood this weekend before the state playoffs.
“The whole school is excited,” said Marshall, who dubbed the Snyder following as “Tiger Nation.” “We’re a year older and wiser than last year. So far, it’s worked great. People asked me when I took the job, ‘How are you going to win games there?’ Now I’m getting congratulations from great coaches like [Rich] Hansen [of St. Peter’s Prep] and my friend Coach Hampton. It makes me feel better. All the negative talk about Snyder is gone. We’re able to show we have a competitive football team.”
It’s what happens when you break a long playoff drought. You have people thinking about glory days of people like Bucky Rineer and Rich Glover and Walker Lee Ashley and Louie King. The old-timers put Snyder football on the map and guys like Ray Marshall helped to restore it and create “Tiger Nation.” Well, Tiger Nation is headed to the state playoffs and you better believe it.