Fort Collins natives embracing roles with Northern Colorado Owlz, Hailstorm

Things came full circle for Destan Norman when he took the field for FC Northern Colorado at Colorado State’s Canvas Stadium.

Norman, like Owlz pitchers Tanner Schoeninger and Preston Snavely, grew up in Fort Collins and hoped to one day play professionally.

These local athletes may not be as famous as those who came before them, but that does not negate the appreciation for their opportunities. Getting paid to play the sport they love is a privilege.

“It was really cool; This is the biggest stadium I’ve ever played in,” Norman said. “It’s just exciting. This is a dream come true.

“When you’re a kid, watching the World Cup and professional games, you aspire (to be a professional), but I don’t think I ever realized I’d be in the position I’m in now. I’m really grateful for that.”

Norman is a quarterback and played college football at the University of Denver from 2017-21. He earned second-team All-Summit honors and two academic honors last year.

Hailstorm assistant Kevin Sawchak invited Norman to attend his first tryout last year, eventually signing him with the team shortly after.

I was excited for any opportunity and I’m glad I got one so quickly,” Norman said. “I was in court with (Colorado) crossings, 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 pro ball.

Snavely attended Fort Collins High School, while Schoeninger went to Poudrey. They couldn’t recall hitting against each other, but Schoeninger said Snavely definitely recorded some hits from his pitches. They both played together on the same club baseball team.

Schoeninger was signed by the franchise in February after his senior season and joined the club this summer.

Snavely preceded Schoeninger by signing with the franchise after Wichita State teammate Alex Jackson texted him about the opportunity. He was the first to greet the local boy.

“It was nice to get on the field 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’s nice that the first person I see is a familiar face.”

It is also nice to play in their own territory. They know where to go, what restaurants they like, they can see their loved ones more regularly, and Schoeninger said they can work out at the same gym they always go to. Your loved ones can also come to the games.

Does it benefit them on the pitch? Maybe not, but these things make the transition from high school or college athlete to pro a little easier.

“When you grow up hoping to play pro ball, you don’t really expect to live at home, so it was a little weird,” Schoeninger said. “I don’t know if I’d call it an advantage, but it’s definitely nice.”

They are both grateful for the opportunity to play with Owlz, improve their skills and learn how to act at a professional level.

As children, both wanted to become professionals. Snavely said it doesn’t matter what level he starts at, but that’s the goal and the expectation.

Schoeninger also wanted to go pro, but he wasn’t necessarily into baseball. He was on multiple teams — even playing college basketball when the team contracted COVID — and would have been happy with any of them.

“I just knew I loved sports and it was what I wanted to do forever,” Schoeninger said.

The three athletes appreciate the presence of the USL and the smaller baseball leagues.

No, they’re not into any sports, but Norman, Snavely and Schoeninger might not be playing their sports otherwise.

Having the minor leagues allows players of all skill levels and backgrounds to continue their careers and potentially help them move up the ranks. Snavely said it gives kids an opportunity to get their name out there and proves that a player doesn’t have to be a high school star or go to a big university to go pro.

Everyone starts somewhere, and for them, they rock in Northern Colorado.

“It’s huge. It definitely makes more of an opportunity, especially with the COVID draft and organizations cutting minor league teams,” Schoeninger said. “It just makes all the difference because without it, I and everybody else in the league wouldn’t be playing baseball.”

The Owlz will finish their season at Nelson Park in Johnstown and the Hail at Severance High School.

It’s not an ideal situation, but players have encouraged fans to support teams even if they’re not on the roster next year.

They believe in franchises, the Future Legends project and what success can do for the community. Due to construction delays, the complex will not be completed until after the opening season.

“We have the Eagles, but (Northern Colorado) needs a little more with baseball and football,” Snavely said. “I know it’s kind of rough, but once everything is in place, I think it’s going to be a great place to play and watch.”

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