SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Former walk-on Joe Schmidt doesn’t believe he has made it because he is now Notre Dame’s starting middle linebacker.
The 6-foot, 235-pound senior said he doesn’t ever want to feel as though he’s made it.
“There’s so much more I want to accomplish, that I want us to accomplish as a team,” he said. “I have to take the same mindset every day, to attack the day, attack the practice, whatever we have — the meetings. ... I don’t really think that it behooves you to get fat and think that you’ve arrived ever.”
Schmidt was a three-year starter at middle linebacker at California power Mater Dei High School, but the only scholarship offers he received were from Air Force and Cincinnati. He decided to walk on at Notre Dame instead.
A walk-on at Notre Dame getting playing time is a familiar script. But Schmidt is no Rudy Ruettiger. While the movie “Rudy” was about Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger getting on the field for the final 27 seconds of his final game at Notre Dame in 1975, Schmitt has done more than just get on the field. After watching from the sideline as a freshman, Schmidt got on the field on special teams as a sophomore. That experience convinced him he could be a contributor for the Irish.
“Playing games changes your entire outlook on everything,” he said. “The more time you spend out on the field, kind of helps you settle down a little bit. It slows the game down a lot as you get older. It’s something I’m excited about.”
His special teams play helped him earn a scholarship before the start of last season, when he played in all 13 games. He moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart after starter Jarrett Grace broke his leg against Arizona State in October. Schmidt hasn’t wowed the coaches with his speed or strength, but he has impressed them with his instincts and intelligence as he’s quickly picked up the new aggressive defense installed by first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
“He’s real smart and he runs the defense,” VanGorder said. “I can say that in all my years in ball and coordinating defenses, he’s right at the top in terms of his ability to learn, his ability to communicate, make the proper checks and do all the things we ask of him. He’s very good.”
Coaches are counting on him to be a leader for the young, inexperienced Irish defense, helping to make sure others get in the rights spots. Schmidt considers that part of the job of being a middle linebacker.
“You drive the defense, you drive the team. You try to get all the young guys on the right page. You’ve got to try to get the whole defense on the right page,” he said.
Despite his smarts, he’s likely going to have to keep working to keep his starting job. Irish coaches are hopeful Grace will be able to return later this season, and Schmidt’s backup is highly recruited freshman Nyles Morgan. So Schmidt knows he needs to needs to keep getting better to keep the starting position past the season-opener when the 17th ranked Irish face Rice on Saturday.
“Because the moment you stop being hungry, that’s when someone comes up behind you,” Schmidt said. “There really is no indispensable man. That’s how I try to live my life.”