Indispensable

Notre Dame starting middle linebacker Joe Schmidt doesn't lack candor, nor does he lack the background for a feel-good story. Schmidt feels like his journey to success is just that, a journey, and much of his story is still unwritten.

Joe Schmidt said his mom thought he was “dead” when he called his parents up over a year ago on a Friday morning at 5:30 a.m PST.

“It’s 5:30 in the morning in the west coast, and I call home and say, ‘Hey Dad, how would you like to save x amount of dollars, and I had calculated it up, over the next couple of years?”

“He’s like, yeah, great Joe, how are we going to do that? And, I was like well they have these things called scholarships at Notre Dame, and I just got one. He was speechless, and my mom starts crying because she thought I was dead because it was 5:30 in the morning. I can’t tell you how good it felt.”

The Notre Dame linebacker exemplifies one of college football’s most revered underdog stories, and it’s one that occurs at programs across the nation. A walk-on is informed he’s earned a scholarship with his play on the field and value to the team.

“It’s hard to tell your dad to fork over some serious cash," Schmidt said. "Because, you know, it’s hard to say I can pay for school if I go to these other places, but I want to fulfill my dreams. He was always so supportive of that, and I can’t thank him enough.”

The story doesn’t stop there for Schmidt. Nine days from now, the California blonde hair, blue-eyed middle linebacker called “Schmidty” by teammates will make his first career start in a Notre Dame uniform. Taking it one step further, Schmidt is in the running to be named captain this year. Even if he’s not, there’s no question he’ll be called upon to be one of the primary leaders of first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s defense.

“I don’t know if it’s (success) ever really set in,” Schmidt said. “I have to take the same mindset every day. Attack the day, the practice, whatever we have in meetings. I don’t see myself any different from three years ago to now. I don’t think it behooves you to get fat and think you’ve arrived, ever. Because the moment you stop being hungry is when someone comes up from behind you. There is no indispensable man. That’s how I try to live my life. I’ve memorized that poem. It’s written on my heart.”

The poem Schmidt is referring to is "The Indispensible Man," written by Saxon White Kessinger and preached to the Irish defense by their former coordinator Bob Diaco.

The poem reminds the reader there’s no such thing as leaving behind an unfillable hole, but Schmidt would leave close to that if the Irish were without his expertise on defense. Backing him up is former five-star and freshman Nyles Morgan, talented and instinctive but unversed in the college scheme, and Jarrett Grace, who's still nursing a serious leg injury from 2013. Schmidt will provide a confident demeanor and an elevated level of football IQ in a defense featuring youth and inexperience at a multitude of spots on the field.

"Joe Schmidt is a leader on our defense," head coach Brian Kelly said following the end of spring practice. "You know, there's no one probably that has the kind of leadership and understanding of our defense than Joe has right now. Right now he can't come off the field. His knowledge base in terms of getting people lined up and having them execute what we do defensively, he's absolutely integral to what we're doing."

Schmidt played in 10 games during Notre Dame’s 12-0 regular season of 2012, but mostly as a special teams contributor. Last season saw him backing up middle linebackers Dan Fox and Grace in Notre Dame’s 3-4 defensive scheme for the first half of the season.

When Grace suffered his season-ending injury against Arizona State on October 5, Schmidt was deemed the next man in. A week later, Schmidt’s performance surpassed many expectations in Notre Dame’s win over arch-rival USC. Schmidt was credited with a critical game-saving pass breakup on third down during the Trojans' final drive.

“That was awesome,” Schmdit said. “It was a great day for me. I was the hometown kid. I have a lot of friends on the team, and I got to go give them hugs after the game as much as they wanted to punch me.”

Schmidt, who hails from Santa Ana, California, grew up an Irish fan.

“Hate is a pretty strong word, but we weren’t fond of each other,” Schmidt said with a sly smile as he explained his feelings towards the Trojans growing up an Irish fan in Santa Ana, California. “All my buddies grew up liking USC, but I thought it wasn’t the best school for me. It was funny because I considered almost going there in the end. It was the attractive option, the easy option.”

“I love Notre Dame. I know how crazy that may sound, but I grew up cheering for Notre Dame. I came on a visit when I was 10 or 11-years old. My older sister and brother-in-law went to Notre Dame. It was freezing cold, and my brother-in-law snuck me on the field, and I tackled him on the 50-yard line, and I said one day I would be here again. It was an incredible moment. I knew from a young age that this is where I wanted to go.”

As Schmidt fielded questions on Notre Dame’s media day, he made it point to tell each new group of cameras and recorders that made it to his table that it’s still a work in progress.

“I always have another goal to reach,” Schmidt said. “It doesn’t stop. There is never a moment where I’m content or done. Right now I want to beat the heck out of Rice. Other than that, I want to lead this team and make sure we can be as good as we can be this year. Obviously, there are a lot of goals along that road, but I want to make sure I’m doing what’s needed to be done so we’re the best defense we can be.”

“It’s been a journey, that’s for sure.”

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