Fort Collins natives adopt roles with Northern Colorado Owlz, Hailstorm
When Destan Norman stepped onto the field at Colorado State’s Canvas Stadium for Northern Colorado FC, things came full circle for him.
Norman, like Owlz pitchers Tanner Schoeninger and Preston Snavely, grew up in Fort Collins and hoped to one day play professionally.
These homegrown athletes might not become household names like those who came before them, but that doesn’t take away from the gratitude for their opportunities. Getting paid to play the sport they love is a privilege.
“It was really cool; it’s the biggest stadium I’ve ever played in,” Norman said. “It’s just exciting. It’s a dream come true.
“Watching the World Cup and professional games when you were little, you aspire (to be professional), but I don’t think I ever understood that I would be in the situation I’m in now. I’m really into it. grateful.
Norman is a midfielder and played college football at the University of Denver from 2017-21. He earned a Summit League second-team honor last year and two academy awards.
Hailstorm assistant Kevin Sawchak invited Norman to attend the inaugural tryout last year, Norman said, and eventually signed with the team soon after.
“I was excited for any opportunity, and I’m glad I got one so quickly,” Norman said. “I was on trial with the (Colorado) Switchbacks, but things didn’t work out there, so I’m glad I was able to find a home here.”
For Schoeninger and Snavely, they were able to reconnect while playing professional ball.
Snavely attended high school in Fort Collins, while Schoeninger went to Poudre. They didn’t remember facing each other, but Schoeninger said he definitely recorded a few hits on Snavely’s pitches. The two also played together on the same club baseball team.
Schoeninger signed with the franchise in February, which followed his senior season, and joined the club that summer.
Snavely arrived before Schoeninger, signing with the franchise after Wichita State teammate Alex Jackson texted him about the opportunity. He was the first person to greet the local guy.
“It was nice to get on the pitch, because they called me and said, ‘Can you be here tomorrow? “, Schoeninger said. “I drove up here, not really knowing what to expect or anything. It was good that the first person I saw was a familiar face.
Playing in their own territory is nice too. They know where to go, which restaurants they like and can see their loved ones more regularly. Plus, Schoeninger can train in the same gym he’s always been to, he added. Relatives can also come to the games.
Does it benefit them on the ground? Maybe not, but these things make the transition from a high school or college athlete to a professional a little easier.
“When you grow up hoping to play professional ball, you don’t really expect to live at home, so it’s kind of weird,” Schoeninger said. “I don’t know if I would call it a plus, but it’s really nice.”
Both are grateful to have the opportunity to play with the Owlz, improve their skills and learn to conduct themselves at the professional level.
As children, they both wanted to turn pro. Snavely said it didn’t matter what level he started at, but that was the goal and the expectation.
Schoeninger also wanted to turn pro, but he wasn’t necessarily into baseball. He was on several teams — even playing college basketball when the team was hit by the COVID bug — and would have been happy with any of them.
“I just knew I loved the sport, and that’s what I wanted to do forever,” Schoeninger said.
All three athletes also appreciate the existence of USL and little league baseball.
No, they’re not in the majors of either sport, but Norman, Snavely and Schoeninger might not otherwise play in their respective sports.
Having smaller leagues allows players of all skill levels and backgrounds to further their careers and potentially help them move up the ladder. Snavely said it gives guys an opportunity to get noticed and proves a player doesn’t have to be a high school star or go to a big college to turn pro.
Everyone starts somewhere, and for them, that’s northern Colorado.
“It’s huge. It definitely gives more opportunity, especially with COVID reducing the draft and organizations cutting minor league teams,” Schoeninger said. “It makes all the difference because, if it didn’t exist no, me and everyone in the league wouldn’t play baseball.”
The Owlz will end their season at Nelson Park in Johnstown, and the Hailstorms will end at Severance High School.
It’s not the ideal situation, but the players have encouraged fans to stick it out and support the teams – even if they aren’t on the roster next year.
They believe in franchises, the Future Legends project, and what success could bring to the community. Due to construction delays, the complex will not be completed until after the inaugural seasons.
“We have the Eagles, but (Northern Colorado) needs a little more with baseball and football,” Snavely said. “I know it’s a bit difficult, but once everything is set up I think it will be a great place to play and a great place to come and watch.”
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