By TYLER TRUMBAUER
To some, playing Division I-A football and participating in the NFL Scouting Combine would be the ultimate claim to fame. To others, signing with an NFL and CFL franchise during their football career is the story they overuse at parties. And an even slimmer pool of people can say that they have appeared on a primetime show on ABC.
For Gene Snisky, all of these are just bullet points on his résumé.
The Nesquehoning native has accomplished a lot in his 44 years and it all started back on the gridiron of Panther Valley.
Snisky, who is a graduate of Panther Valley High School, starred for the Panthers’ football team and earned 1st team All-State honors. His skills warranted looks from many top tier college football programs including Penn State, Temple, Maryland and Clemson, but he chose the University of Missouri. As he put it, “I just fell in love with the place,” on his official visit to campus.
“That was my dream,” Snisky said during lunch in Orwigsburg, his current hometown. “I wanted to play in the NFL. Wrestling was always secondary. I was very passionate about both, but was very fortunate to come from a good football area. I think the coal region is the best place to play football in the entire country. They talk about Texas and Florida, but we are tough up here.”
The self-described “die-hard Eagles fan” played under Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, future Philadelphia Eagles coaches, at Missouri. During his years as a Tiger, Snisky knew he was going to be on a big stage, he just didn’t know what day of the week.
“I told everyone that I was either going to be playing on Sundays in the NFL or wrestling on RAW on Monday nights," he said. "They didn’t really believe me. They laughed at me, but I knew I would.”
A shoulder injury in college put a damper on his football career, but he was invited and participated in the NFL scouting combine, where 300 of the best college football players work out for NFL teams. Snisky was not drafted as teams had concerns with his shoulder situation. He was signed by the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent and participated in their training camp, but shoulder surgery was necessary.
He then signed with the Birmingham Barracudas of the CFL, but quickly realized it wasn’t for him.
Three years after surgery, Snisky decided to trade his shoulder pads for wrestling tights and live out a dream he had since he was 10 years old, when he was first transfixed by the WWE.
"When I was a kid watching, when I was 10 years old, and I remember seeing Hulk Hogan,” he recalled. “This larger-than-life character. The more I watched it, the more I liked it because the characters are over-the-top and everyone is larger-than-life. As a kid you are sitting there thinking, ‘Man, this is so cool.’ It hooked me in like that.”
Snisky made his debut on WWE’s flagship show, RAW, on Sept. 13, 2004. His first match, which Snisky says is his coolest moment of his WWE career, was against a top-name wrestler of the time, Kane, in a no disqualification match. He wrestled under the ring name, “Snitsky,” and it was announced that he was from Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania, which meant a lot to him.
“There was never any time or effort put into my ring name. It kind of just popped up. Vince [McMahon, the Chairman of WWE], asked me what my name was and where I was from and he used it all. Which was great. Normally they say Allentown or Philly, but every time, I was announced as from Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania. I didn’t want to be from Allentown or Philly. I’m from Nesquehoning. It was great.”
Snisky’s WWE career lasted four years and saw his character rise to the top of the highest level of wrestling that exists. He was intertwined in some of the best storylines of the era, but his life as a WWE superstar sort of came to an abrupt end.
“I left on good terms. I had a meeting with Vince and told him that I am not here to just collect a paycheck. They weren’t doing too much with me storywise and I was frustrated. For a while, I went back and forth with the writers with ideas and nothing went anywhere. It was just general frustration. I was never on the bench growing up and being a benchwarmer for the WWE was not my cup of tea.”
He added, “I felt that I had more to give and there was more to do with the WWE.”
He was officially released from his WWE contract on Dec. 11, 2008.
The 6’8” Snisky has been keeping himself busy in his post-WWE life. He still wrestles at charity events and loves to give back to the community, such as the Humane Society.
He is also into acting; he has appeared on ABC’s primetime, "What Would You Do?” He is currently involved in shooting many different movies, such as "Manhunt" and "RumbleRama," which he will begin shooting in April outside of Manchester. He would like to direct a movie one day.
Snisky now directs his busy life by “riding the wave,” as he says, from his WWE career with his wife, Diahann, and their dog, Maximus. The Panther Valley graduate, pro footballer, WWE wrestler and actor has many talents and a laundry list of accomplishments on his résumé. He ended up shocking his naysayers and starring on Monday nights on RAW as “Snitsky,” and for the rest of his life he will star everyday as Gene Snisky, the guy from Nesquehoning, who proved everyone wrong.