PHILADELPHIA -- There are easily identifiable cultural benchmarks across all sports that alter the way a generation plays and approaches the game.
For years, children of a certain age stuck their tongue out when driving to the basket like Michael Jordan. A slew of babies born in the '90s and 2000s were named Shaquille or Peyton. Baseball players still flip their caps backwards and wiggle in the batter's box like Ken Griffey Jr.
"It was [intentional]," Alex Snyder, a Division III prospect out of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, told me a few weeks back. "I can remember in fifth grade, I was 10 years old and I was watching a game on television -- this was 12 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday -- and I was watching the Patriots play the Steelers.
"Immediately after the game, my brother and I went outside. I was like, I want to replicate everything I just saw from Tom Brady with my fifth-grade ability. I always admired and studied him."
To be clear, Snyder is not calling himself the heir apparent. The Colorado Springs, Colorado, native is well aware of the extraordinarily steep road that lies ahead to realize his NFL dreams and how much better he needs to get. While prospects prepare for this week's NFL draft in Philadelphia, Snyder is working not only to mold himself into a better athlete, but to place himself on as many radars as possible -- just give himself a chance as an undrafted free agent or camp invite. That already has included personally phoning more than 100 agents to find a representative who would take him on and convincing a larger school to invite him to their pro day (he was eventually able to work out along with prospects at Division II Colorado State University-Pueblo).
But watching him on film is like seeing a strange mirror image of Brady. Snyder is the same height -- 6-foot-4 -- nearly the same weight and also wore a knee brace during his time with the Tufts Jumbos. He shares with Brady the same clip-clop dropback motion and the same rolling, over-the-shoulder delivery.
It was enough to sufficiently freak out former Rams and CFL quarterback Tim Jenkins, who brought in Snyder this offseason to be a pre-draft client with his quarterback training service.
"He was referred to me through a buddy of mine that played receiver with me in college," Jenkins told me. "I put on the tape and I saw the same thing everyone else saw. Whether on purpose or not, it's eerily similar. And it's not only the delivery, but how he stands in the pocket. It's especially reminiscent of Tom's early career when he was super tall, before he balanced himself out later.
"It's similar. It's eerie."
From a technical standpoint, Jenkins saw it as the perfect storm of body size and meticulous emulation. Today, he says, children are running around trying to catch footballs with one hand behind their back like Odell Beckham Jr. But how many have massive hands and blazing speed?
"We tried to get his lead shoulder a little tighter, which, if you watch Brady throughout his career, is something that he's done," Jenkins said. "There's some things that we've broken down about Brady and some things we've done with quarterbacks that we'll help him with. Because I think he's got it down better than anybody."
Snyder said he's tuned out everyone who calls his dream ridiculous. He spoke to a Broncos scout, as well as a national scouting service representative, at the Colorado State-Pueblo pro day. And since graduating from Tufts, he's spoken with or worked out for a majority of the CFL teams. He's eager to explain that the Jumbos changed their offense four times in four years. He had to split time with a running quarterback on certain downs who could come in and execute a veer-type package. As a guerilla marketer for himself, Snyder has to inform as many people as possible -- in and around the NFL -- that Tufts only plays eight games a season, which is why his numbers are significantly lower than your average collegiate draft prospect. (In his senior season, he threw for 10 touchdowns and 1,435 yards, with six interceptions.)
"The reaction [from scouts] was the same as everyone else. 'OK, we like what we saw, now we have to figure out more about you,' " Snyder said. "It was kind of a 'Who is that guy?' type of deal. It wasn't a surprise to me. I knew that would be their response. They need to do their own homework about me. It was good feedback."
The life comparisons -- Brady was a draft afterthought back in 2000, as the 199th overall pick -- are not lost on Snyder, either. And he understands there are lessons to be learned emotionally, as well. But he could not have picked a better shadow mentor.
"Brady's been dominant for so long that you're going to have an entire generation of kids imitating everything they do," Jenkins said.