During the Wildcats’ first five practices, Schmidt has seen carries with the first-team offense and is vying for a key role this season. This is Jacob Schmidt’s newest test. If the past is any indication, Schmidt will rise to the challenge.
Schmidt accepted a walk-on offer from Pat Fitzgerald in the summer of 2007. When the two sat down, Fitzgerald told Schmidt that his fate was in his own hands.
“He sat me down and said we’d love to have you, I can’t guarantee you’re ever going to play, but you could be the starting running back, it’s all up to you,” said Schmidt in reference to Fitzgerald. “I took that as a challenge and decided to come here.”
After hearing Fitzgerald’s words, Schmidt was confident he could be more than a practice squad player and had no doubt in his work ethic.
“Personally, I knew I would step on the field,” Schmidt said. “That’s just the kind of person I am.”
In order to succeed, Schmidt set goals for himself. He planned to keep working upward with his goals. As a freshman, his initial goal was simple.
“Coming in freshman year, (my goal) was to basically earn my keep,” Schmidt said. “To prove I belong here.”
Schmidt proved he was worthy to be a Wildcat. As a true freshman, he was named offensive practice player of the week and later named special teams practice player of the week. After knocking out his first goal, Schmidt was ready to work ahead.
It was time for the next step.
In 2008, Schmidt found his way onto the field. In fact, he played in all 13 games—mainly on special teams. His biggest highlight of that season came in a blocked punt against Southern Illinois.
Schmidt’s hard work and determination would pay off. In September of 2009, Schmidt was awarded a scholarship. However, he had bigger goals.
“Once I did that, my goals kept progressing,” he said. “It was to be a major factor in the running game or be the third-down back or start some games. Through hard work and determination, I’ve reached a lot of my goals.”
As a (third-year) sophomore, Schmidt became a major part of Northwestern’s offense. He played in 12 games, started two at running back, and scored his first touchdown against Towson.
Schmidt’s success carried into the 2010 season. Though his season was cut short by five games due to an injury, Schmidt became the Wildcats’ short-yardage running back and finished the season with four touchdowns.
Pat Fitzgerald has watched Schmidt’s progression first-hand and is proud of what the fomer walk-on has accomplished.
“He’s one of those guys who you take a lot of pride in,” Fitzgerald said of Schmidt. “A walk-on to our program, he’s been an unbelievable student, an unbelievable representative of our program in the community, he and a couple of other guys started our uplifting athletes chapter on campus, and then he’s been a tremendous player for us.”
Schmidt missed spring practice in 2011 while recovering from an ankle injury. He spent the offseason working to rehabilitate his injury and prepare for the season.
“I embraced it and obviously wanted to get healthy to get back out here and contribute,” Schmidt said. “I persevered through the rehab and I’m excited to be back and be 100 percent.”
Now that Schmidt is healthy and back with the team, the fifth-year senior is focused on his next goal.
“My goal is to win a Big Ten championship,” Schmidt said. "Whatever my role is, however the coaches need me, I am glad to contribute.”
Through four years at Northwestern, Jacob Schmidt has come a long way. Once walk-on, Schmidt is now a major part of the Wildcats’ offense, though that comes as no surprise. After all, that was the plan all along.
“To be honest, it’s what I set my goals to do early on and I’ve achieved a lot of them,” he said. “To walk on, to earn a scholarship, and to have a large role for the past couple years, it’s exactly what I wanted to do.”