Leading the Way

Completely recovered from a knee injury that cost him most of his sophomore year and invigorated from a successful offseason, senior fullback Asaph Schwapp is ready to bowl over anyone who stands in his runner's way.

"It's really amazing how smart Asaph Schwapp is," offensive coordinator and running backs coach Mike Haywood said. "Because he knows all the positions at tailback, he understands the positions at fullback. He's able to tell some of these young guys when they're in certain protections, ‘This is what you should really look for.'"

That intelligence should pay off for Notre Dame's running backs. Whether its James Aldridge, Robert Hughes, or Armando Allen in the backfield, they can each benefit from Schwapp's experience and awareness on the field.

"It's been great," Hughes said of his fullback's influence. "If I have a couple of questions about something, [Asaph] will look up to me and tell me, ‘This is what you've got to do here, and this is what you've got to do there.'"

While everyone has their own opinion on who should get the lion's share of the carries, Schwapp, for one, thinks that the Irish will be fine with whoever is getting the ball.

"I think all three of the backs are exceptional," he said. "They all do the job extremely well. I'm just happy to block for them. They each have their own individual styles and they compliment [each other] well."

The Hartford, Conn. native said that even though the styles of the running backs range drastically from Allen's speed and shiftiness to Hughes' brute power, his task remains constant no matter who he's playing with.

"My job is my job," Schwapp said. "If I don't do it, then they're gonna get cracked, so I've just got to worry about what I've got to do."

While he may be an ideal teacher and mentor on the field, Schwapp said he didn't need to act as a parent to the younger running backs, and that he was impressed by their development.

"The backs we have, they show a lot of maturity on and off the field," he said "I don't have to worry too much about calling them up saying, ‘You can't do this, you can't do that.' They're mature beyond their years."

It's been a long journey to this point for Schwapp. The former Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year was thrown into the fire early, earning his first start in the blue and gold against USC in 2005. Schwapp played a key role in blocking for Darius Walker, specifically in short-yardage situations, that season. In just the second game of the 2006 campaign, however, Schwapp aggravated an existing knee injury against Penn State, and opted to have season-ending surgery to correct the problem. Even though Schwapp was listed as completely healthy going into 2007, the thought of the injury still lingered in the back of his mind.

"It was more mental than physical," he said. "Sometimes I'd make cuts off the wrong foot, like I'd try to avoid it. I wouldn't do it intentionally; it was sort of subconscious."

It was so involuntary, in fact, that Schwapp himself didn't notice the problem until he studied game tape and noticed mistakes he was making when cutting or going into a block.

Those mistakes added up, for both Schwapp and the team. Notre Dame stumbled to a 3-9 record and the Weaver High School graduate had, by his standards, a disappointing season.

"I struggled a lot at times last year," he said. "I wasn't too satisfied with the way I played."

Schwapp pointed specifically to ball-handling and open-field blocking as areas of his game that needed improvement in the offseason.

"Obviously, I've had problems with the fumbling," he said.

As for the blocking issue, Schwapp's struggles evidenced themselves in Notre Dame's team rushing numbers. Last year, the Irish rushed for only 903 yards, whereas the team ran for 1765 in 2005, Schwapp's last season. He said he hopes his offseason workouts result in more of a burst into his blocks next season.

"I've been working on a lot of hip flexibility, a lot of lower body," he said. "More stretching for my lower body."

While he was working, Schwapp was motivated by the fact that, as a senior, he would inevitably have to assume a type of leadership role in the Irish huddle, and he wanted to set a good example for his younger teammates.

"I felt like [last year] I let my teammates down," he said. "I know that I'm going into my senior year. I'm one of the older guys. A lot of guys are looking to me to step up when it's time to step up. I just want to be that guy."

Schwapp's enthusiasm has carried over into the spring, which he said has been very productive, but not just in terms of technical football progress.

"I think we progressed as time went along," he said of spring ball. "I think our team as a whole played with a lot more passion, a lot more emotion."

The fullback also agreed with the consensus that this spring has been more physical than years past.

"We have a lot more full-speed periods, and we had a lot of people returning so we didn't have to start too much, just got right into it," he said. "And I think it'll help a great deal."

So far this spring, Schwapp says he hasn't noticed any difference now that Haywood is calling the offensive plays instead of head coach Charlie Weis. He also didn't know if that would lead to a change in his role in the offense come fall.

"I think that's for Haywood to decide," he said with a smile. "I've pretty much been doing the same stuff — a lot of blocking."

At the end of this season, Schwapp will be faced with the choice of whether or not he wants to return for a fifth season at Notre Dame. Because he was injured in the second game of the '06 campaign and missed the rest of the season, NCAA rules stipulate that he is eligible for a medical redshirt that season, and can play a fifth year. While Schwapp wouldn't commit right now to saying that he plans to come back, he sure seemed to be leaning that way.

"I don't really like to think about the future," he said. "I focus on what's going on right now, but I wouldn't want to leave these guys because they're a great group of guys and I love them."

Right now, Schwapp is just worried about righting the ship in 2008. First and foremost, that starts with him showing off his personal offseason development.

"My goal is to show a lot of improvement from the way I played last season," he said. "I just want to turn the program around."

IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories