This past week, I had the chance to see West Virginia University fullback Owen Schmitt in the NFL combines and I was reminded of the first time I ever saw him play.
In 2005, I traveled to Morgantown to watch the Mountaineers’ spring game. It was a bright sunny day. The air was cool outside the stadium, but it was almost too hot with the sun beating down on us in the bleachers.
That day I saw a Mountaineer player, a number 35, who was certainly not on my radar. Despite the fact the guy was huge and tough, he was remarkably fast for his size. I was immediately impressed with his blocking and running skills. Then I noticed that he had good, soft hands when catching the football. That, too, was unusual for a player of his size.
I flipped through my program and saw the name “Owen Schmitt.” It was name worth remembering, because it had greatness written all over it!
After the game, the fans were permitted to go down on the playing field for pictures and autographs with the players and coaches. One of the pictures we took was of my daughter standing alongside the extremely personable, young number 35.
When I returned to work, I immediately told my Mountaineer friends about a sophomore player, named Owen Schmitt.
“You keep watching for number 35!” I said. “This kid is going to be something special.”
Little did I realize just how prescient those words would turn out to be!
Owen Schmitt would eventually enter the radar screens of Mountaineers everywhere with his gutsy, facemask shattering 80-yard performance on only 6 carries against the Maryland Terrapins.
But those are just the statistics. The numbers simply do not adequately tell the story of what this Fairfax, Va., resident and Wisconsin-River Falls transfer has meant to the Mountaineer football program!
In three short seasons, Owen Schmitt has come to epitomize the tenacious, blue-collar spirit of the Mountaineer football program and its devoted fan base. Schmitt has quickly become an honorary “West Virginian,” a state known for its rugged mountains and strong sense of family.
In the three short years he has been in Morgantown, Schmitt’s exploits have become legendary. Nearly everybody has heard about his 10 broken facemasks. You will struggle to find a football fan who has not heard about Schmitt banging himself in the head with his helmet after a bad pooch punt. Then there is the incident where he jumps up off the ground yelling, after he makes a big tackle that knocks his helmet from his head. That is Owen Schmitt at his best!
Owen clearly symbolizes the heart, strength, and pride of an entire state! His toughness and blue collar work ethic have won the love of blue and gold fans throughout the state. However, this is the same “tough guy,” who was crying like a baby after his last game wearing the blue and gold uniform of the state and university he has come to love!
Schmitt runs with power and reckless abandon, he hurdles opposing players like a track star, and he dives for the end zones like a swimmer at the gun. In addition, he rarely misses a block. And “blocking” is a polite word for what the tough fullback does to his opponents. When trying to open a hole, Owen brutally drives them off the playing field and dumps their bodily remains in the cheap seats.
Schmitt is a warrior whose best games always come in the big games! In three straight bowl games, the Mountaineer fullback has had a run that went for over 50-yards.
There is no need for me to tell people to remember Owen Schmitt. I just dare you to try and stop them! Any place that Mountaineers gather, his name will eventually come up in conversation. Porches, backyards, and tailgate parties—anywhere that resonates with the sounds of Mountaineer football will fondly recall his exploits. Moreover, any future list of Mountaineer greats will immediately be scoffed at if it fails to include the legendary fullback.
Owen Schmitt may have played his last game in a West Virginia uniform, but no matter where he goes in life, he will always be a Mountaineer! Nothing will change that. The fans of West Virginia University have adopted this young man in much the same way he has chosen to adopt the great state of West Virginia.
We are proud of you, Owen Schmitt! We will be watching you on Sunday! We will all be rooting for your success. And we will be anxiously awaiting your return to Mountaineer Field.
We will miss you, Owen, but you will never be forgotten! You will always have a place in our hearts and memories. And there’s always a home waiting for you in West Virginia.