BRADFORD, Pa. – Nate Schneider has taken the road less traveled to becoming one of the top players in Division III basketball.
The former St. Marys Area High School standout began his academic and athletic career at Penn State Behrend for two years before transferring to Pitt-Bradford.
Along the way, there was the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a pair of significant ankle injuries. But all of that adversity, and overcoming, is now just part of his unique story.
“So I ended up going to Behrend and was there for a year played on the team and then went back and was planning on playing some significant minutes the second year and then ended up getting hurt and broke my ankle and was out for the year,” Schneider said. “So the next year was COVID. So over COVID, I transferred to Bradford because it was cheaper and just closer to home and things were easier. I actually wasn’t planning on playing for a little bit and then like a week before the season. I like kind of got the urge to play again.”
It was then he reached out to head coach Jesse DeLoof, who has a unique story of his own. DeLoof played for the Panthers and was a graduate assistant. His first head coaching job was at Youngsville High School, where he took over a 2-20 program and had them in the state playoffs by year three.
He’s now the head coach at his alma mater and in the midst of another impressive turnaround.
The Panthers went 1-24 in 2019-20, and the following season, DeLoof’s first, was wiped out by COVID. Last season, the Panthers were 9-16 and have already matched that win total in 2022-23 with a month to go in the regular season.
“So I reached out to coach DeLoof and just asked him if there was any chance I could like try out for the team? I know he had like 26 guys on the roster at the time, and at first, he was hesitant about it and said he wasn’t sure because we had so many guys,” Schneider recalled. “And then he reached out to a couple of coaches that knew me and he said, ‘Yeah, we’ll give you a chance.’ It just went from there. So we’ve kind of laughed about it now looking back that.”
The reason they can laugh about it now is that Schneider has become an All-American caliber player. After averaging 20.7 ppg. last season, Schneider is at 23.4 ppg. this season, which currently ranks fifth in all of Division III.
All this coming after injuring his ankle a second time.
“Well, I broke my ankle that second year at Behrend, and then I came over here but I also broke my ankle again,” Schneider said. “So I had two back-to-back years of the same injury, like three spots of a broken bone in my ankle, so I was kind of upset for a while. I didn’t know if basketball is my thing anymore or if I was going to get the chance to play it again because I basically didn’t get to play for two years.
“After I started to heal up and play again in the summer, I just got that urge. I knew I still had the skill and like felt like I was wasting that potential if I just didn’t try to play again. So I mean, that was kind of my biggest thing to try and want to come back.”
That love, that drive for the game, began at a very young age for Schneider.
“I kind of fell in love with basketball when I was young,” Schneider said. “My goal was to play in college. I didn’t know how or where I would go, but I knew I wanted to since I was little. Once I had those good couple years of high school, I kind of tried to figure out where I wanted to be and what was going to work for me.”
And he cites his father as someone who had a major impact on falling in love with the game.
“Definitely my dad,” Schneider said. “I grew up just kind of like I remember when I was little we had a Little Tikes hoop down in my basement. I’d make him play me one-on-one and anytime I’d lose I would throw a fit that’s kind of where it started.
“And there were older guys in the area I looked up to like Cam Grumley and Cole Peterson and Jesse Bosnik. I remember going after they (Bosnik and Elk County Catholic) won the state championship, having them sign my ball. So I mean looking it up to the older guys and seeing that they could do it and then watching Cam play at Clarion and scoring 1,000 points and stuff, I knew that’s something I wanted to do in the future.”
To that point, Schneider is quickly approaching 1,000 points in just his second year for the Panthers. He is currently unofficially at 964 points.
But more than that are the team goals for the Panthers, who currently are 9-9 overall and in the thick of the AMCC race.
“We just got done with the first round of like conference games,” Schneider noted. “I mean, you can ask anyone on our team, but there’s not a team in the conference that we feel like we can’t beat. There are some talented teams but I mean, we’ve lost some close ones. So I mean the goal is to win the conference title. But first, we’ve got to get in the playoffs and go into each game focusing on getting that win and what we can do better going forward, and then hopefully, things will work out.”
Beyond this season, Schneider still has a season of eligibility left, so he is looking to play one more year and possibly become a graduate assistant.
“I do have another year of eligibility, so we’re trying to figure some things out,” Schneider said. “My plan is to go be a graduate assistant and then get my master’s degree. Still trying to see if there’s something out there where I could possibly play the one year and then be the GA. Not sure how it’s going to work out, exactly, but year, I definitely plan on getting into coaching.”