He wasn't surprised months later when he took over the spring reigns at middle linebacker and cemented his status as "irreplaceable" after just 15 practices.
We might have been. He wasn't.
So when Schmidt developed from the status of "starter" to Most Valuable Player of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, forgive the Golden Dome goal-setter for failing to collapse with a case of shock and awe. Humbled? Of course. Surprised? Probably. Expected?
"Without being ridiculous, I set achievable, attainable goals," said Schmidt. "Specific. I have a bunch of goals I try to accomplish on the way to one big goal. For the semester, the season, the year -- (back to) the week.
"For me to sit here and tell you that I didn't have a dream of this happening, I'd be lying to you," he offered. "Now did I in a million years think it? You never know. But I believed in the process. It's never been about an award. It's about the team, trying to be successful. If this (MVP) means helping the team, that's what I want."
It's what he did. As head coach Brian Kelly noted of Schmidt, "As coaches, when we sat down and we looked at the most valuable football player for 2014, we looked at not just what he did on the field, but what our team did not have when he was not on the field.
"What we lacked was somebody that brought that leadership, that energy, that passion that is needed in this game of football on a day-to-day basis. So when we talked about most valuable, it was pretty clear in our minds that the 2014 most valuable football player was Joe Schmidt."
(On an evening that included a building evacuation due to a water mane break in the basement of the DeBartalo Performing Arts Center, Schmidt aptly offered of the team's November demise in the wake of his absence: "There was more than one leak in the building.")
But how did Schmidt go from post-signing day add-on to the 2011 recruiting class to instrumental? To indispensable?
"I tried to perfect my craft. I work on my games at all times, and that's not just on the field," Schmidt offered. "I have a bed time. ("A little over 8 hours" prior to his scheduled wake up), a very strict regiment I put on myself. I'm very self-disciplined and I wanted to make sure that when the opportunity came, I was ready for it.
"If some day I don't have to perform for football. Then it might be different. If you're trying to get performance, you have to get strict."
It's a lesson for every under-recruited future star to five-star flameout: If you want to get the most out of your ability, you could do a lot worse than follow the model set by Schmidt.
"I never really thought about being an MVP or being a walk-on, or scout team player," said Schmidt of his varying status in the program. "It's about being the best player on that particular play."
With the program's top honor in tow, one goal remains for the likely 5th-year senior in 2015.
"The national title is the pinnacle of everything. I'm going to keep chasing it.'