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July 11, 2013

Schmidt savors full ride

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Joe Schmidt figured something was up, so he gave his dad an advanced warning.

After getting word that Brian Kelly wanted to meet with him the next morning before an early Friday team meeting last month, the walk-on linebacker texted his father that he might phone in some news before dawn. In other words, don’t let the call go to voice mail.

A strike against cancer

Notre Dame’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes will stage its debut event this weekend, giving fans a chance to interact with members of the Irish football program.

On Sunday, July 14 the chapter will host a bowling event at Strikes & Spares in Mishawaka. The event begins at 10 a.m. with fans able to bowl with members of Notre Dame’s Uplifting Athletes chapter, which includes Matthias Farley, Danny Spond and Joe Schmidt.

The donation for participation is $100, with proceeds going to the Notre Dame chapter’s push toward raising awareness and research funds of osteosarcoma. Find out more information and how to register for the event here.

Uplifting Athletes is a national organization with nearly 20 chapters, all dedicated to the fight against rare diseases. Notre Dame’s connection to osteosarcoma began almost a year ago when head coach Brian Kelly introduced the team to local teenager Sam Grewe, who was adopted by the program during his cancer battle.

The disease is a rare aggressive cancer, one that developed near Grewe’s right knee, diagnosed late in 2011.

A multi-sport athlete including football, Grewe’s highlights were shown to the Irish on the big screen inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex before they met him.

“The kid was a beast, no one could stop him,” said Schmidt, president of Uplifting Athletes at Notre Dame. “For a few minutes I forgot that we were adopting him and he had cancer.

“I think I started drawing parallels like a lot of guys did, that was me at 13. We were all the best player on our team. Then we saw him come in (the Gug). Then a few weeks later we saw him come in here with his leg on backwards with a  prosthetic at the end of his leg and we were like, Oh my God. That could have been us. It really makes it so personal.”

Grewe underwent rounds of chemotherapy and surgery that amputated part of his right leg followed by reattachment it at the knee. None of it stopped Grewe from walking the sidelines at Notre Dame home games, attending the BCS National Championship Game or leading the fight song in the Irish locker room after last season’s home finale.

Now Notre Dame’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes hopes to take its support of Grewe a step further.

“It’s important to us, getting this disease out in the open, out in the public, out to our fan base so people can understand what it’s all about,” Schmidt said.  “We want to raise a lot of money, but right now it’s important for us just to get this idea off the ground and get people understanding what’s going on.”

That education starts Sunday.

– Pete Sampson

Schmidt arrived early at the Guglielmino Center that Friday morning, then was summoned into Kelly’s office. Schmidt’s instincts proved correct, he was going on scholarship. His leap of faith in walking on at Notre Dame over full rides from Arizona and Air Force, had been rewarded.

Kelly announced the news to the team in the Gug auditorium.

“I probably got 110 hugs,” Schmidt said. “It was really cool just to see how excited my teammates were for me.”

Then Schmidt made the call home, waking up his dad.

Schmidt said he’d never felt treated like less than a scholarship player the past two years. But that didn’t stop the tuition bills. Kelly’s scholarship decision would.

“It was really cool getting the news, being able to call my dad. It was funny, my dad has to take off his Darth Vader mask because of his snoring,” Schmidt said. “My mom, I don’t know that I’ve heard her that happy in a while.

“It was an awesome, awesome day.”

The scholarship moment continued Schmidt’s improbable run through Notre Dame.

He chose the Irish after National Signing Day two years ago, joining friend Troy Niklas in South Bend.  After red-shirting as a freshman, Schmidt played in the final 10 games last season, including the BCS National Championship Game. He added an interception of Malik Zaire in the Blue-Gold Game last spring.

This weekend Schmidt will round out his Irish experience further when he helps stage the first fundraising event for Notre Dame’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes, a college football driven organization dedicated to fundraising for research against rare diseases.

Schmidt helped found the Notre Dame chapter and serves as its president. Danny Spond and Matthias Farley have also been key contributors.

The chapter will host a bowling event at Strikes & Spares near campus this Sunday morning. For more information, click here.

The Uplifting Athletes experience has added depth to Schmidt’s Notre Dame career as the business entrepreneurship major helps lead the program’s charge to support local teen Sam Grewe through his battle with osteosarcoma.

Grewe’s rare bone tumor and backstory connected with Notre Dame, the program adopting him last season with a connection that included him leading the fight song in the locker room on Senior Day. Schmidt’s passion for the cause was enhanced last year when he lost his uncle to lung cancer.

“I saw how vicious it was because they just don’t have any more options,” Schmidt said. “It really kind of gave me just a lot of motivation. This is something that needs to be successful. This is something that needs to be done. We need to accomplish this. Word about rare diseases needs to get out.”

Schmidt attended a leadership retreat for Uplifting Athletes to get the chapter started, meeting with the organization’s founder and executive director Scott Shirley, a former walk-on receiver at Penn State. In addition to Penn State, the organization has chapters at Nebraska, Ohio State, Boston College and more than a dozen other schools.

The Nebraska chapter helped create the Jack Hoffman touchdown run during its spring game to honor the seven-year old battling brain cancer.

Each chapter’s leadership positions are filled almost entirely by football players.

“Within all the leaders from the different universities, Joe stood out as a leader amongst the leaders,” Shirley said. “A lot of guys stayed in touch with him. As Notre Dame had that incredible season, guys sort of lived vicariously through him, which was a really cool thing for us.”

Schmidt hopes that dynamic continues as the linebacker finds ways to contribute on special teams and defense. From his decision to walk on, to last season’s perfect regular season to his immersion into Uplifting Athletes, Schmidt believes he’s maximized his first two years at Notre Dame.

He doesn’t expect that rate of return to dip moving forward.

“I think every day is a sort of validation,” Schmidt said. “I absolutely love it here. I love living in South Bend, I love my team. This last year has been such a blessing. I can’t even put it into words.  I feel so blessed. That’s the only word I can think of.”

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