Schwenke stays calm, assumes vital role on DL
Samantha Zuba | Thursday, November 21, 2013
Amid all the distractions, Irish senior defensive lineman Kona Schwenke just likes to relax on game day.
“I listen to the same radio songs before a game, like songs that don’t like pump it up, to chill out,” Schwenke said. “I feel like since high school, getting active before a game is not my thing. I’m more of the just stay calm and focus on things. I just listen to music to chill me out.”
Schwenke hails from Hauula, Hawaii, and though he may be “chill,” he pumped himself up to earn playing time.
“It was hard, you know, getting to college everyone wants to play,” Schwenke said. “For me, it was just kind of work hard. I just tried coming out every day and put work in, just get better. I was just waiting for my playing time.”
Schwenke’s work ethic paid off last season. As a junior, Schwenke played in 11 games and started two after playing in a combined eight games his freshman and sophomore years.
“We were kind of short on the D-line last year,” Schwenke said. “I started to play more last year. When I finally got into the rhythm of things and started playing and just built my confidence, I wanted to keep pushing to get more playing time.”
Schwenke has played an even bigger role in his senior season. The 6-foot-3.5, 303-pounder has played in nine games and started five as the Irish have scrambled to cover holes due to injury along the defensive line.
“So far it’s been a great year,” Schwenke said. “I was asked to step up a lot this year, just with injuries and shortages of D-lineman players. Coming into my last year, I just really enjoyed this season and hope to finish it strong. It’s a great all-around experience for me.”
Schwenke credited former Irish linebacker Manti Te’o and receiver Robby Toma – both native Hawaiians – for drawing him to Notre Dame.
“When I first came here I just feel like I really enjoyed my recruiting trip,” Schwenke said. “Manti and Robby were my hosts when I came up, so I got to see it and experience it and just see how they were enjoying it. They played a crucial role in me coming to Notre Dame.”
The transition wasn’t always easy, however. Schwenke had to learn a new system, develop relationships with new coaches and learn to communicate with new teammates.
“I feel like when I came here I had to change a lot of things, like I had to change the way I spoke, how I communicated with people,” Schwenke said.
Schwenke had to adjust, both as a student and as an athlete. But he said he received a strong support system to help him balance football and academics.
“It’s a lot different from what people think,” Schwenke said. “We wake up at like eight every morning for training or lifting, after classes we go straight to practice, after practice we’ve got to do homework. It’s a lot harder, but we get a lot of help.”
Schwenke said he made some of his best memories while making the transition to life at Notre Dame as a freshman.
“My best memory at Notre Dame was probably freshman year and meeting everybody and doing new relationships that I still have now,” Schwenke said.
In his first three seasons, Schwenke recorded seven tackles, and he has racked up 19 so far in 2013, including 11 in a banner day against Navy on Nov. 2, a 38-34 Irish victory. The entire defensive line stepped up against the Midshipmen, Schwenke said.
“It was one of those ‘fight every play that you make a play,'” Schwenke said. “We all knew on the D-line that it was going to be a defensive lineman game. If they blocked us then we were going to have a hard time beating them, so we practiced it all week, the techniques for the Navy game.”
However, Schwenke was injured against Navy defending the Midshipmen’s triple-option offense.
“I was cut on a play, and that’s how I injured my ankle,” Schwenke said. “It feels a lot better, so I’ll be playing against BYU.”
Now on the mend, Schwenke will run through the Notre Dame Stadium tunnel one final time before facing the Cougars.
“I’m bringing like 24 people out to my senior day, all my brothers and my parents, so it’s exciting,” Schwenke said. “For me, it’s all starting to sink in now as we get closer to game day. I walk past the Stadium, and I stopped yesterday and just looked at the field. It’s really sad. I feel like it’s just going to keep sinking in as we get closer.”
Post-graduation and post-football, however, Schwenke plans to put his anthropology degree to use. Schwenke said he pursued anthropology because it offered him the opportunity to work closely with people, as he had learned to do at home.
“The reason why I took anthropology, is back at home my dad’s a counselor,” Schwenke said. “He’s a counselor at school … so it just rubbed off on me. I just feel like anthropology was the perfect field for me when I started school because you have to deal a lot with people and understanding people. It was something that I was used to.”
But Schwenke has options. He could continue playing football after he takes off an Irish jersey for the last time.
“Coach Kelly is talking about NFL teams and how they’re interested in me,” Schwenke said. “I haven’t really looked into it. I haven’t really started thinking about the NFL. I just feel like this season it’s really going to hit me that I have a chance. It’s a confidence booster knowing that people are looking at you, but I feel like at the same time I’m more worried about finishing up the season.”
Contact Samantha Zuba at [email protected]