By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
November 23, 2007
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Johnny Knoxville would be proud of Owen Schmitt. In fact, Knoxville could probably learn a thing or two from Owen, whose willingness to try stupid things as a youngster helped pave the way to what has become an outstanding college football career.
||Owen Schmitt runs for a first-quarter touchdown against Cincinnati last Saturday night.
“Yeah, I’ve done some stupid things,” Schmitt laughed.
Like sticking his foot in a bicycle wheel while riding his bike just to see what would happen.
“Of course I flipped over the handle bars and smashed my head and I wasn’t even wearing a helmet,” Schmitt said. “That was stupid.”
When he was in the eighth grade he tried another crazy stunt that unfortunately went awry.
“In our gym there were bleachers next to the basketball rim and I kind of leaned out and grabbed the backboard and I was going to swing around and grab the rim,” Schmitt explained. “I swung out and I couldn’t hang on and I fell like 10 feet right on my hip. I fractured my hip and I couldn’t walk the whole summer.”
Schmitt unsuccessfully tried to play baseball later that summer.
“I remember hitting what would have been a triple and I almost got thrown out at first base because I couldn’t run,” he laughed.
Who would have ever thought doing massive snow-board jumps and running off of roofs could prepare a guy for college football? Those are some of the things Owen Schmitt did growing up in Virginia.
The roots of Schmitt’s masochism can be traced back to his adolescence. As a third grader he once came into the house from feeding his dog with a huge hole in his hand.
“My dog bit my hand when I went to feed it and I went into the house crying. My grandpa was like, ‘Quit crying you baby. Suck it up, you’ll live.’ That’s like the dumbest thing ever. He poured rubbing alcohol on it and it burned even more. He wrapped some gauze on it and sent me off to school. It hurt.
“I can remember being in class and wincing because my hand was just pulsating. But he was right. I sucked it up and lived,” Schmitt said.
When his buddies back home see Schmitt on Sports Center banging his helmet into his forehead it’s really not that big a deal. Oh, that’s just Owen they say.
The irony, of course, is that Schmitt for the longest time considered himself among the biggest geeks in school. He was the chubby kid in fifth grade whose height didn’t quite match his weight, even though he was still taller than the rest of the kids.
“I was like 150 pounds in fifth grade. I guess that’s pretty big, huh?” Schmitt says.
It was during that time that he also got the idea from somewhere that wearing hats would make his face look slimmer.
“I still wear them,” he said.
Today he wears a Mohawk haircut style that is distinctly his own. You could call it an O-hawk.
He was the kid at baseball games that used to wear his glasses so tight on his face that you could almost blindfold him with dental floss.
“I used to wear these really big glasses that my grandma got me,” Schmitt said. “They had these sport bands for regular glasses. I would like put them on so tight that the glasses would be squished against my face. The glasses were actually like bending around my face.
“I tried to wear them with my helmet when I played football and that just wasn’t happening. I had to get contacts.”
Certainly when you have this kind of reputation sometimes the truth and the legend don’t always intersect.
Assistant head coach Bill Stewart once remarked, “Anything you’ve heard about Owen … double it and you’re getting closer to the truth.”
Sometimes the doubling has been tripled and quadrupled.
Like the time he was supposed to have been with some friends eating chicken wings and he ordered 60, offering a few to his buddies, and eating the rest by himself. Not true, says Schmitt.
Or like the time he picked up a Volkswagen and put it over his head. Once again, not true. He only got the VW to his waist.
“I tried that before, that’s how stupid that is,” Schmitt explained.
He does own the record for eating a cardboard coaster in less than 10 seconds.
“It was a record on the wall and I’m like, ‘I’m going to beat that record,’” Schmitt said.
Schmitt also owns the unofficial team record for broken facemasks with 10. Once again, Schmitt says people have kind of taken off and ran with that one.
“That’s just a malfunction in equipment really,” Schmitt explained.
The point of all this, of course, is to illustrate just how tough Owen Schmitt is. During the Gator Bowl last year his ankle was hurting so bad that he was about ready to break his arm to forget about the pain. He hurt his back instead. Problem solved.
“Toughness is will. When you get smacked in the mouth are you going to be willing to get back up and throw another punch?” Schmitt explains. “When that dude pancakes you are you going to get up the next play and do it again or are you going to let him own you for the rest of the game?”
Football is a man’s game and pain is the sport’s great equalizer.
“Sometimes it will be the stupid little injuries that occur and people will say that it’s not a big thing but it makes a huge difference,” Schmitt said. “Most of the time during the game your adrenaline is pumping so hard that little things don’t bother you.”
Schmitt, however, says that he doesn’t take unnecessary risks.
“People think I’m this crazy guy and I’m not that crazy,” he said.
He says he is just enjoying himself - living for the now.
“People worry about the future so much. I don’t look ahead. Is that weird? I might look ahead to tomorrow or in a month if I’m going on a trip but I’m really not one of those guys that look way into the future,” he said.
Right now his focus is solely on the Connecticut football game on Saturday. After that, he’ll just take them as they come.