ND A-to-Z: Joe Schmidt

The walk-on turned MVP returns for his final season, but how will Joe Schmidt navigate Notre Dame’s crowded depth chart? Schmidt is next in Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z series.

Joe Schmidt spent last year picking the brain of Brian VanGorder. The results of that mind meld were obvious and essential for the Irish last fall.

Now, having mastered Notre Dame’s defense, Schmidt moved his knowledge hunt to the University’s development department, getting a grasp of how the University takes the hundreds of millions of dollars that it raises and multiplies them. Schmidt debated doing the one-year MBA program this year but declined after realizing how much it would pull him away from football. He may pick that up after his college career is complete.

How Schmidt closes out his Notre Dame career is in question heading toward training camp after he sat out spring to recover from the broken leg and dislocated ankle suffered last November. Whether or not Schmidt will be a success after Notre Dame is much more certain.

The linebacker is next in Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z series.


Not only does Schmidt bounce all the way back from his broken leg and dislocated ankle, he elevates Nyles Morgan into a bona fide middle linebacker option too. It would be a positive for Notre Dame if Schmidt didn’t repeat as MVP. It would also be a positive if Notre Dame could run a functional defense without the former walk-on directing traffic. That all makes the best-case scenario for Schmidt tricky, because a repeat of September/October would be a negative. The Irish need to spread reps here. It will be interesting to see if Schmidt can rep at Will linebacker in sets with Morgan (Mike) and Jaylon Smith (Sam). That could be an effective changeup for the defense.


Schmidt loses a step after last season’s broken leg and ankle dislocation, making the athleticism gap between him and Nyles Morgan too great to overlook. With Jarrett Grace also healthy, Schmidt is reduced to a role player for his final season. While Schmidt’s injury wasn’t as severe as Grace, it was similar. And Grace needed almost two years to make a full recovery. Schmidt believes he’ll be full go this season and he’s taking part in the team’s summer OTAs. However, until he takes a blow to that leg it’s impossible to be completely sure of the linebacker’s health.


It’s impossible to find the perfect parallel for Schmidt. He was on pace for a 105-tackle season last fall, standard for a top linebacker. But he’s also sitting on just 86 career tackles through four seasons, which puts him well behind the comparable totals of Brandon Hoyte, Maurice Crum, Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese and most starting inside linebackers, although Schmidt factored much later into his career than those four. Maybe the best parallel is Shane Walton, who walked onto the football team after quitting soccer and grew into an All-American cornerback. In terms of career ascensions, that’s the only one that can match Schmidt.


Do we really need to do this? Scout and ESPN didn’t even have recruiting profiles for Schmidt. Rivals and 247 ranked him as a no-star prospect. In the modern recruiting rankings era, no Notre Dame player has out-performed his prep profile more than Schmidt. The linebacker’s value was rewarded with the MVP last December, although the November collapse of Notre Dame’s defense without him was evidence enough of Schmidt’s value.

Best Game

It’s tempting to go with Florida State because Schmidt posted nine tackles (eight solo) and an interception, but his missed sack of Jameis Winston is tough to overlook. The Michigan and Stanford games are better picks because they showcased Schmidt’s leadership in making Brian VanGorder’s chaos work. The Irish shut out the Wolverines and held the Cardinal to one scoring drive longer than 12 yards. Notre Dame’s defense was at its best during those games. Schmidt was the biggest reason why.


“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.” – Brian Kelly during spring practice in 2014 

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