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Schmidt’s storybook journey comes to end

Matt Lozar | Friday, November 19, 2004

Forget about wearing the blue and gold in Notre Dame Stadium on Saturdays – senior Josh Schmidt had trouble making the Zahm interhall football team as a freshman.

Spraining his ankle while “messing around” in a pickup game, Schmidt couldn’t make the dorm’s tryouts but was able to convince the captains he could be a contributor as a tailback.

Four months later, Schmidt was doing some more convincing – to new Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham.

“There’s a coaching change right now, everybody’s starting from scratch,” the walk-on turned scholarship player said. “There’s not going to be a better time than right now to walk on, so let’s give it a shot.”

Now with one regular season game left in his Irish career, Schmidt can’t believe where his four years at Notre Dame have taken him.

Walking on

Growing up around “obnoxious” University of Tennessee fans in Knoxville, Schmidt knew he was looking for a good business school in his college choice. Combining that career path with always being a football fan and Notre Dame would seem like a natural fit.

When he got to campus, it was exactly that.

“Once I got here it was like, ‘Wow, this place is amazing. This is where I want to spend my four years,'” Schmidt said.

After playing football in high school, it was always in the back of Schmidt’s mind that he could walk on to the Irish. Schmidt felt comfortable with the academics after his first semester, and with the coaching change, knew this was his chance.

He sent Willingham and the coaching staff tapes of his high school days and went to talk with them. Joining the team a few weeks before spring practice started, Schmidt was able to start working out with the team and build on his freshman frame of “200 pounds soaking wet.”

That small frame left the new fullback at a major disadvantage compared to the other fullbacks on the team, sending Schmidt onto the practice field turf time and time again.

But he kept getting up and each time he got up, Schmidt’s confidence that he could hang with Division I football players grew.

“I’m sure [his confidence] probably came from having his head knocked off a couple of times,” Irish offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said. “[You have to] keep getting up and coming back at it and pretty soon, instead of getting rejected in the hole you are starting to move the hole a little bit, that just comes with a number of repetitions.”

That confidence has allowed Schmidt to rise to second on the Irish depth chart at fullback. He mainly comes into the game to either open a hole or catch a pass out of the backfield. He’s now someone the coaching staff can rely on when they call his number.

“If you look back a couple years ago, he was very inconsistent, not real confident,” Diedrick said. “Now I think he’s very, very confident with his ability and his play, and I think he’s a little more physical which a fullback definitely has to be – it comes with the territory with that position.”

Marriage and a scholarship

Schmidt and his wife Lisa have been together since middle school. When Schmidt decided to come to South Bend, their relationship became long-distance for three years.

That was too long for Schmidt.

“When I came here, we did the long-distance thing for three years and I was like, I’m not doing another year of this,” Schmidt said. “We’re getting married, and you’re coming up here with me.”

The couple was married on May 15. Lisa moved to South Bend and took a year off from school so they could live together.

“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Schmidt said. “It’s really been the best thing in the world not having to go back to an empty apartment, but a gorgeous wife.”

Not only did Schmidt get married over the summer, but also he was awarded a scholarship.

When that happened, it wasn’t about the money for Schmidt, but more about the dedication he put in and the coaching staff recognizing and acknowledging it.

“I guess when you first walk on and see guys like Timmy O’Neill and guys that have gone before you and been awarded a scholarship, that group of guys have been walk-ons that earned a scholarship, just from the standpoint that you earned a scholarship as well to be put in that category of that type of guy, first of all was just the biggest award more than money – more a thanks,” Schmidt said. “All the hard work you put into it is just blows your mind that they would reward you with that. I never expected that.”

Coming to an end

Schmidt played in his final home game six days ago. He had a talk with Willingham last week and the two came to the conclusion Schmidt wouldn’t return for a fifth year.

There are no hard feelings.

“His thoughts were with the tilt of the offense switching to the tight end, away from the fullback, there really wasn’t a place on the team for me anymore,” Schmidt said. “I guess coming into the season and into my joining the team, my intentions were really not to come back for a fifth because I guess from the start, I looked at the fifth year for guys that were either starting or trying to go to the NFL or that type of thing.

“That’s not me, I came here for the academics and school was my main focus and looking to get a job next year so that was my decision.”

Running out of the tunnel for the last time against the Panthers, Schmidt described his feeling as weird. When he came to South Bend, only in his wildest dreams did Schmidt believe he would be on the field for Senior Day.

“I came here with no expectations of playing football,” Schmidt said. “When I walked on to the team, I really didn’t think I would make it. When I joined the team, I never thought I would be asked back to camp. When I was asked back to camp, I never thought I would play. It’s really exceeded all my expectations.

“Not to say I didn’t come in with the work ethic I’m going to do everything I can to get on the field, that’s definitely what my mindset was, but I didn’t come in expecting to play.”

Four years later, he will have two monograms, one scholarship and a dream come true to show for his efforts.

Not bad for someone who almost couldn’t make his interhall team.