For Schofield, change is good

Wisconsin's latest commit has weaved a winding road toward becoming a college linebacker

So how does a kid who expected to be a soccer player, while living in another country no less, grow up to be a star prep defensive end who will play linebacker in college and expects to play in the NFL some day?

Hard work and plenty of dedication helps. So does having a few highly successful relatives in your chosen field. Then, of course, there are thousands of miles of moves and a broken foot.

A broken foot? Absolutely. At least in the case of O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin's latest verbal commitment for the class of 2005.

As a high school freshman, Schofield, then checking in at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, wanted to play cornerback for his North Chicago Community High School team. But he was not fast enough. Even playing wide receiver on his varsity team in a triple-option set his sophomore year, Schofield only ran a 5.0 40-yard dash.

Then he caught a fortuitous break.

"It is kind of funny," Schofield said. "My sophomore year I had broke my foot during basketball season. I always ran flat-footed. It hurt so bad I had to walk on my toes. So when I started running I just started running on my toes."

The result was a revelation.

"I got so much faster," he said. "I ran most of the time, like a 4.5 or 4.6."

What began with better form was honed with persistent hard work. Schofield said he added 15 pounds of muscle last winter, working in the weight room while playing power forward on North Chicago's basketball team. Now 6-3 ½, 225 pounds with a 315-pound bench press, Schofield has lost some speed, but he has shown he is quick enough in camp workouts to prove to college coaches, such as Wisconsin's, that he can make the jump from prep defensive end to college outside linebacker.

"Now, since I've put on so much weight, I'm trying to keep at least a 4.6," Schofield said.

He is working on his speed and endurance this summer by running two miles and 10 40-yard wind sprints every day.

"This is my senior year, I've got to leave everything on the field," he said.

Schofield also shows that dedication in the classroom. He struggled his freshman year, earning just a 2.3 grade-point average but since then has been more serious about his studies, with the help of his parents' encouragement.

"They always said I was going to get a scholarship and go to a big school," Schofield said. "I guess I probably took it as a joke because I didn't think I was really going to make it very far in football."

Schofield said he began to turn the corner academically soon after his freshman year.

"My parents put me on lock down," Schofield said. "So I had no choice but to get my grades up."

The true turning point, though, came when colleges began to send letters to Schofield the summer before his junior year. Then, the possibility of playing big-time college football and eventually joining his cousins Bobby Engram and Vonnie Holiday in the NFL became an achievable reality.

"I know it's possible. So I'm ready to work and do whatever it takes to get to [the NFL]. I still have to go to college though," Schofield said. "I'm ready for the college experience. I plan on taking some peoples' spot. I don't want to sit. I can't stand sitting on the bench. It just irks. Most people get redshirted. I don't plan to get redshirted."

Schofield is also dedicated to getting a diploma.

"If I had a chance to leave school early to got to the NFL, I would have to think hard because I really want to get my diploma," he said. "Neither one of my parents got a diploma from college but they still got great jobs. I don't know how they pulled it off."

O'Brien's father, Anthony, is stationed at Naval Station Great Lakes. His military career led to frequent moves early in O'Brien's life. O'Brien has lived in North Chicago since he was 10 years old, but he was born in South Carolina and lived in Jacksonville, Fla., before living in London for three years.

"No football," O'Brien said of London. "I swear I was so good at soccer I thought I was going to be a soccer player because all we did was play soccer.

"I started playing football when I was about 12. I used to play quarterback. I was real good at that. I've played just about everything but I really wanted to be a quarterback. I had a real strong arm."

Now, Schofield's strong arm, fast legs and tireless work ethic have him destined to play linebacker in Madison, Wis.

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