The Need to Know

Without "it," starting Irish middle linebacker Joe Schmidt might still be walk-on Irish linebacker Joe Schmidt.

Without it, the power and athleticism of Michigan's offense would likely be too much for the 230-pounder to withstand for 60 minutes.

And without it, Joe Schmidt would merely be ready to run through a wall alongside his Notre Dame teammates rather than lead the charge through it.

It, in this case, is an incessant need to know. Joe Schmidt has it, and largely because of that, he's one of two players least likely to come off the field for Brian VanGorder's Irish defense.

"I'm a conceptual learner, that's how I am in school, football, everything," said Schmidt. "I need to know why. I have to know why. I'm kind of ADD so if I don't know why, I'm going to be focusing on why the whole time and bouncing off the walls.

"When you learn like that, it's way easier, and then you can talk the game. Once you can talk the game, it's so easy to have a fluid football conversation. I can go off the side of the field and say, 'Coach, this is what I saw. I saw this formation, this is what happened, this is the play they ran, this is how the defense reacted, and this is what I did. How do you feel about that?'"

Schmidt feels strongly about most things football, including the perpetual myth that because he's a former walk-on, he's somehow not as talented as a player dubbed a three, four, or five-star prospect years ago.

"Personally, I have no idea," Schmidt said when asked why he wasn't heavily recruited as a 2011 high school senior. "I think that you have to find the right fit for you. I don't know, this is a conversation I would have with young guys getting recruited.

"At the time, it bothered me a little bit. But I never saw anything as a limit. I don't care what these recruiting sites think or whatever this guy thinks. I'm just going to go out there and play football, and I'm going to do whatever I can to help, hopefully Notre Dame, if they accept me. Help Notre Dame win football games."

A Five-Star Chip

Schmidt has since met his initial goal -- helping Notre Dame win games -- notably last week as the team's best defensive player, and last season with a game-saving hit and subsequent pass defensed against USC. Still, outsiders remain quick to point out the skills they believe the former preferred walk-on doesn't possess.

It's likely why in Schmidt's case, "it" also represents a five-star chip on his shoulder.

"Everyone wants to do that, don't they? Everyone wants to point out something wrong with you, for one reason or the other. It's like in human nature," Schmidt offered. "It's in school, life, business. 'This guy didn't have a perfect SAT, he can't come here." Okay? It's something people are always going to do.

"I think that's the big problem some people have is putting limits on themselves," he continued. "If you feel that they're there, you put them there. If you feel that you have no limits, you can accomplish anything. That's how I want to live my life. If I ever have a family, or children, i'll teach them the same thing. I think that's what my dad did a good job teaching me. You can do anything you put your mind to. That's how I play football and try to live my life."

Schmidt currently lives the life of a starting middle linebacker. He's in charge of the Irish defense on the field, at least the front seven. It's a role he relishes.

"I'm out there to make sure our defense is in the right position. That we make all the proper alignments, the proper checks, and if we don't, that's on me," Schmidt said following his first career start last Saturday. "Obviously I want to be productive, I want to make a bunch of tackles, but at the end of the day, I want to make sure our defense is operating. Fluid. That's something I try to embrace. I take it very seriously.""

It's why he realizes that handling Rice's offense is a far cry from stopping the likes of Michigan and the college football elite that follows.

"I could sit here for a long time with you and go over all the learning we have from today," Schmidt said following a 48-17 win over the Owls. "There's a few plays that I missed that I would love to have back. We have to be better, I have to be a lot better in a lot of areas.

Handling their collective emotions is one of the tasks at hand. So too is meeting the level of play that Michigan has brought to the rivalry in four of the last five outings.

"The first game action I had against Michigan there was definitely some chippyness," he said of the 2012 contest, won 13-6 by Notre Dame. "I knew it as a fan, because I loved Notre Dame growing up. It's different when you're a player. I was there for that (2011), which was nuts."

2011 saw Michigan erase a 17-point Irish advantage en route to a 35-31 win. Last season, the Wolverines jumped on Notre Dame from the outset and never relinquished their lead. In addition to 2011, the Wolverines prevailed in the last seconds in both 2009 and 2010.

Four out of five to the team from up north stings for every Irish player and fan. Another loss won't sit well with either, a reality of which Irish head coach Brian Kelly is well aware.

"I've lost to them three times, so personally I don't like losing," Kelly said when asked why playing Michigan is special. "So I'd say that. I don't want to lose to Michigan. I don't like the way the game ended last year. It's a home game, and it's a game you want to win.

"We need to get off to a good start this season. It's important that we put our kids in a good-- they have to get off to a good start, so beating Michigan is important for us early in the season."

Schmidt took the requisite 24 hours to enjoy a 1-0 record in 2014. Michigan week is upon them.

"We'll get our minds right, get our souls right," he said. "Make sure we're emotionally ready because it's going to be a great test."


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