Jacob Schmidt never has backed down from a challenge, and now he's tackling big ones on and off the field.
The former four-sport standout at Rhinelander High School is a redshirt freshman and walk-on at Northwestern University, where he's juggling the demands of playing NCAA Division I football while studying biomedical engineering.
Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats are off to a 5-0 start after winning their Big Ten opener at Iowa, and although Schmidt has received only one carry from scrimmage, he couldn't be happier.
"It was the end of the Southern Illinois game and I only gained a yard, but it was pretty cool to get into a game," said Schmidt, who started the year as the fourth or fifth running back on the NU depth chart but climbed as high as No. 3 because of an injury.
In the meantime, the former Hodag plays on the kamikaze units, namely the punt return and kickoff coverage teams. He blocked a punt and recovered the ball against SIU. And he keeps working on his game in hopes of joining the regular backfield rotation.
"I go out every day with the idea of getting better," Schmidt said. "One big difference between high school and college is that is that at this level you have to know how to read the defenses and pick up blitzes. We run a lot of spread stuff and no huddle, so you have to know the plays and the opponents' tendencies and everything."
Schmidt has the athletic ability after earning 11 letters as a prep star: four in baseball, three in football and two each in hockey and basketball.
The 5-foot-10-inch, 205-pounder was a two-time all-Wisconsin Valley Conference selection at running back and cornerback (2005-06), earning team Most Valuable Player honors both seasons. Schmidt rushed for 2,150 yards and finished with more than 3,000 yards in total offense. He also accumulated 85 tackles and seven interceptions.
Schmidt's work on the field and in the classroom made him a target of many D-II and D-III teams around the Midwest as well as the Ivy League schools. But he wanted to test himself against the best that college football has to offer, deciding that Evanston was the place to do it.
"I came down here because I wanted the challenge of playing and making it at the D-I," Schmidt said. "I visited Northwestern and Wisconsin and talked to the coordinators and coaches and this just sounded and felt like the best place for me. I thought this was a better opportunity from a football standpoint."
In 2007, Schmidt was selected the Wildcats' offensive practice player of the week for the Northeastern game and special teams practice player of the week versus Ohio State.
So, he's continually seeking to improve and keep climbing the ladder.
"Even though I played in the Valley, nothing from high school really can prepare you for the jump to D-I college ball," Schmidt said. "Although, I played in the (WFCA) All-Star game and that was a step up from the regular high school competition. But here, the speed, strength and size of the players is so much better.
"The main thing is getting the system down and learning everything you can about the game," Schmidt added. "I want to get bigger and faster, so you keep working on conditioning. I watch a lot of film, and you do whatever you can to compete every day."
Despite the odds and passing up the chance of playing much sooner at smaller programs, Schmidt doesn't regret his decision.
"Words can't describe what it's like to play Big Ten football for the first time," Schmidt said. "It was a dream come true. Getting out there in front of 80,000 fans at Iowa. It's hard to describe the experience."