As a freshman for Notre Dame last season, Schmidt did not register one carry. It was quite a change for a player who was accustomed to not only carrying the load in high school but amassing huge days on the ground.
"It was somewhat frustrating," Schmidt said of his freshman year. "Everyone coming into college has aspirations to play right when they get there. It's not going to happen all the time. It was tough at first but I got over it."
In the recruiting process, head coach Charlie Weis told Schmidt that he'd give him a look at running back but couldn't guarantee anything. Schmidt spent his freshman year at the back of the running back depth chart behind Darius Walker, James Aldridge and Munir Prince. The natural move for the 6-3, 252-pound back was over to fullback, especially with Ashley McConnell not returning to the team. The switch from running back to fullback was one that Schmidt had been anticipating.
"Most colleges were telling me that I'd move to fullback," Schmidt said. "I'd be more of a blocking back than a running back because I didn't have the speed. In high school, I was one of the fastest kids. In college, there are so many great athletes. It's just so much more competitive and I didn't have the speed for running back. Fullback was a better fit because of my body size."
Asaph Schwapp is back from a knee injury that cost him all but two games in 2006. The junior is expected to assume his starting duties once again. But with McConnell not back, that leaves an opening for Schmidt as the backup at fullback and a chance for playing time this upcoming year. The sophomore is also getting more familiar with Weis's system and the duties of a fullback.
"I know the offense a lot more now than in the fall," Schmidt said. "We're going at a slower pace and it's easier to understand what's going on. I'm getting a lot more reps than I did in the fall."
As evidenced by last season, an injury can spring a player from backup to starter in the blink of an eye. Schwapp's injury pressed McConnell into duty and he was the No. 1 fullback for the remaining 11 contests of the season. From this experience, Schmidt said he learned to be ready for anything on the football field.
"The main thing you can learn is be ready," Schmidt said of Schwapp's injury. "That's probably what anybody is going to tell you. Ashley got his chance and he made the best of it."
When in the lineup, Schmidt will be paving the way for an impressive group of running backs. Travis Thomas is back at the position after spending a season at linebacker and expectations are high for the fifth-year senior to turn in a productive year. Weis said the difference between sophomore back James Aldridge from last season to this one is night and day. Aldridge battled knee problems during his freshman year and compliments Thomas nicely with what Weis calls "sneaky speed" for a 6-0, 21-pound back. Freshman Armando Allen gives the Irish a home run threat every time he touches the ball.
"It's a crop of amazing running backs," Schmidt said. "Being a fullback, it's going to be tough no matter who you're blocking for. Those guys, being the type of athletes and runners they are, it makes it that much easier."
Because of what each running back brings to the table, Schmidt has to be aware of who is in the game.
"You just have to know who is getting the carry," Schmidt said. "Some guys are quicker than others. You have to adjust a lot faster if you're blocking for one of the quicker guys. If you're blocking for one of the power guys, you have to stay on your guy a little longer."
From the offensive backfield, there are some opportunities in the passing game to be had. Last season, Walker caught 56 balls as a running back, good for third on the team. Most of these were on dump-offs or on screens. McConnell even had a touchdown reception in the Michigan game In high school, Schmidt at times lined up as a wide receiver, although he rated his hands as average. The chances for a back to catch the ball is there in Notre Dame's offense.
"Obviously, the offense Coach Weis brought in here involves the backs a whole lot," Schmidt said. "They're also involved in the passing game. Darius was the third leading receiver on the team last year. He had 50-plus catches. That's a large number for a running game in 13 games. I think it shows how much a running back can contribute in the passing game."
By listening to Schmidt, it's obvious he's hungry for playing time. That could come on special teams. As a freshmen, Schmidt was not on the unit. This year, he plans to get onto the field, whether that be on special teams or at fullback.
"I didn't play last year," Schmidt said. "Right now, I'm hoping to get on the field. That's been my goal since the first day is to just get on the field. I'm ready to do anything to help the team out."