Senior linebacker Joe Schmidt might still carry with him the tag of walk-on. But he’s also one of the leaders on an Irish defense that’s counting on the senior to play key minutes as the man in the middle of Notre Dame’s defense.
So while the comparisons to Rudy are cute, they’re hardly fair for a player who had opportunities to play scholarship football out of high school, but earned his ride after arriving in South Bend. While undersized, Schmidt has all the tools necessary to serve as a productive middle linebacker in Brian VanGorder’s system.
Let’s take a closer look at the California native and his role on the Irish.
6′.5″ 235 lbs.
Senior, No. 38
An unranked prospect by Rivals, Schmidt reportedly had offers from Air Force and Cincinnati before talking the plunge and walking on at Notre Dame.
Pursued by USC for a walk-on roll as well, Schmidt was courted by the Irish staff on his unofficial visit, and even though they weren’t offering a full ride, Schmidt loved everything he saw, and took the gamble on himself .
A three-year starter at Mater Dei High School, one of the top prep programs in Southern California, Schmidt earned a scholarship before last season and likely a fifth year.
Freshman Season (2011): Did not see action.
Sophomore Season (2012): Played in the final 10 games of the season, primarily on special teams. Made six tackles.
Junior Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, seeing time as a reserve linebacker late in the season. Made 15 total tackles and two TFLs on the season. Made key pass breakup against USC in victory over Trojans.
Did we expect to see a player like Joe Schmidt find the field after five recruiting cycles at Notre Dame for Brian Kelly? No. But he’s a pretty good fit for a defense that demands an active middle linebacker, and Schmidt’s a teacher on the field, capable of getting players in proper alignment and serving as the nerve center for a young Irish defense.
Not a great fit for Bob Diaco’s 3-4 system, Schmidt will be covered by two defensive linemen in the 4-3, though he’ll still have to battle a lack of length and size to shed blocks. But a high football IQ can help all of that, and Schmidt’s hardly a runt, though the official roster listing him at a shade over six-foot is pretty giving.
Next year, the Irish might be ready to give Nyles Morgan the job in the middle of the Irish defense, or bring Jarrett Grace back once he’s fully healthy. But for now, Schmidt’s playing a crucial role in the heart of an unproven but talented defense.
Get ready to see a very productive linebacker. Capable of running down plays and excellent in coverage, Schmidt’s the type of player who may not have a future on Sundays but will certainly be productive on the field.
Talking with Schmidt earlier this week, it’s clear that he’s a born leader with a lot of sway in the locker room. He’s also an unselfish player, talking about the pride he takes in making sure fellow linebacker James Onwualu is lined up correctly or helping to put Jaylon Smith in a position that helps him make plays.
Schmidt will have his hands full, as the Irish implement a system that’s an NFL scheme. But I expect him to finish in the Top 3 in tackles this season, and play very good defense against the pass.
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Torii Hunter Jr.