Schnell ready to take the next step in his NFL career

Spencer Schnell

A few days before the start of training camp for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Spencer Schnell was back home in Elkhart preparing himself for the extreme heat in Florida.

The former Elkhart Central football standout took a timeout from training on Tuesday to get a haircut. 

"I did it on my own," said the 2013 Blue Blazers graduate. "I wanted to go into camp with a haircut because it's nice and hot in Florida."

Schnell will be among the rookies on July 21st that will report to Tampa Bay training camp. Veterans report on July 24th and camp will get underway on July 26th.

An undrafted free agent from Illinois State University, Schnell had a tryout with the Chicago Bears in early May, but wasn't signed.

"I was invited back to veteran minicamp with the Bears," Schnell said. "They said they didn't have room to sign me at the time after the tryout," Schnell said. "Chicago wanted to give me another shot because they felt I had a good minicamp with them. I went down to Tampa and signed with them and I wasn't able to go back to the Bears. The Bears would have been a good opportunity for me, but it worked out in my favor with Tampa. I'm happy with what happened.

"It was kind of a shock and a humbling experience when I signed. But it was also something I felt I might have the chance to do someday. I left a good impression on the Tampa coaches and they thought I should be a part of the team. I really appreciate them for that."

The process of becoming of an NFL player for the 5-foot-9, 183-pound Schnell began on May 10th and May 11th during Tampa Bay rookie minicamp. 

Next up were organized team activities from May 14th May 31st. The last work as a team before training camp was mandatory minicamp, which was June 4th through June 6th.

Tampa Bay had Schnell work as a slot receiver and a kick and punt returner.  

"I feel like I did well at the OTA's and minicamps," said Schnell. "(Head coach) Bruce Arians split up the field, which most coaches don't do. Rookies and first year players were on one side of the field and veterans were on another side of the field. You have a lot of opportunities to show your worth and what you can do. 

"I made catches and did what was asked of me. I gained a grasp of the playbook and showed I could be a dependable player. I showed that my size won't affect my play.

"I felt I was able to play faster once I got a grasp of the playbook. That was the biggest difference from the first minicamp to the last minicamp. In the NFL there's more mental work than physical work. The playbook is so complex. You have to learn what defenses are doing and be able to read and react."

Spencer is the son of David Schnell, who was a standout quarterback at Elkhart Central High School and Indiana University. 

David had a tryout with the Buffalo Bills after college, but wasn't signed. David passed away in 2011 after a battle with leukemia.

"When I was a kid I looked up to my dad and he had a little stint in the NFL," Spencer said. "I watched a lot of football when I was growing up and I always wanted to play in the NFL." 

Like his father, Spencer has excelled playing football at the high school and collegiate level. 

As a senior at Illinois State University, Schnell earned all-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors after catching 65 passes for 872 yards and nine touchdowns. Schnell finished his college career ranked fifth on the school's all-time reception list with 175. He also compiled 2,030 career receiving yards and returned 15 punts for 131 yards.

In just a short time, Schnell has noticed a big difference between college and professional football players.

"Everybody is good and fast," he said about the NFL. "You have to be able to play fast on every play. Every rep is a full-speed rep. Everybody is smart. You have to find a way to separate yourself."

Schnell grew up being a fan of a much taller NFL wide receiver.

"Growing up I was a big fan of (6-foot-4) Randy Moss and I watched the Minnesota Vikings," Schnell said. "When Moss got older he joined the Patriots and I started watching them. (Wide receiver) Wes Welker was with them then and he was like me as a receiver. I started becoming a little bit of a Patriots fan. 

"Welker and Julian Edelman are guys I've watched and looked up to as football players. The three of us have similar attributes. They're smart football players that find ways to get open even though they lack size. That's the kind of player I want to be moving forward in the NFL."  

Schnell's focus was on football, family and friends while being back in Elkhart for a little over three weeks.

"I trained and stayed in shape and made sure I'm ready to go when I go back to camp," Schnell said.

"I also saw family and people that I haven't seen in awhile. It's an awesome experience to hear from people in Elkhart. They're very excited for me and rooting for me to continue to get better and make the team. My family has high expectations for me because I have high expectations for myself."

That confidence drives Schnell to play in the NFL, even if he's denied an opportunity to stick with Tampa Bay.

"If it doesn't work out with Tampa Bay I hope to find a home somewhere," Schnell said. "But I hope to find a home down in Tampa.

"I'm continuing to go forward. I'm taking things on a day-to-day basis. Experiencing this NFL lifestyle and playing with these guys is an awesome experience. Every day is just a blessing."

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