The football equivalent of Paul Bunyan, former WV University star Owen Schmitt is a Mountain State legend whose college career was full of memorable moments.
Perhaps the one for which he is most remembered is his nationally televised postgame interview after WVU’s 48-28 Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma.
Schmitt rushed three times for 64 yards, most of which came on a 57-yard touchdown run. His lead blocking also helped the Mountaineers run for 349 yards and four scores on 39 carries against the favored Sooners.
“I love this state, and I love that I got a chance to play here,” a tearful Schmitt told a Fox Sports television reporter.
The touching scene was a rare exception in which words spoke louder than actions. It showed the love he had developed for his alma mater and his adopted home after a three-year career in which he helped the Mountaineers amass a 33-5 record with wins in Fiesta, Gator and Sugar bowls.
“That speech at the end of the game, that was raw emotion coming from everything this place has given me,” said Schmitt, a fullback and special teams player who is preparing for his third season with the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks. “I just want to try to give back.”
Now, 2 1/2 years later, Schmitt remains just as fond of WVU and the Mountain State. That is why the Wisconsin native decided to hold his inaugural football camp in West Virginia’s capital city.
“Oh, yeah,” Schmitt said Tuesday morning when a reporter asked him if he considered West Virginia to be his home away from home. “Definitely.
“I have met so many good people here. I’m accepted here. It’s just a fun place to be. There is so much to do here, with all of the extracurricular activities like hunting and fishing. I have so many good friends here. Coming back here seems kind of natural. I was almost drawn here, instinct-wise.”
Schmitt will conclude his two-day camp today at University of Charleston Stadium, where he coached and entertained about 50 elementary school-aged kids for five hours Tuesday.
“I kind of had something like this going on last year, but it kind of fell through because I wasn’t really happy with what was going on,” said Schmitt, who dressed for comfort – he wore blue-and-white rubber sandals, khaki cargo shorts and a gold T-shirt – on a day when Charleston temperatures topped 95 degrees. “We got this thing rolling this year.
“I think it’s a great turnout for the first year. It’s not too bad. It was a last-minute thing. I think it has been good. I just want to have these kids out here, get them out of their parents’ hair for a couple of hours a day, have fun with them and work on some skills with them.”
Schmitt said he picked Charleston over Morgantown because of its location, noting that his autograph-signing sessions draw especially well in southern West Virginia.
“I felt this might be a good area because it’s a central location and it’s easy to get to,” Schmitt said. “This was kind of a trial thing. We will see what happens.
“We will get together and brainstorm for next year, maybe do one in Charleston and one in Morgantown. Hopefully, we can grow it year by year. Maybe I can get a lot more guys out next year as far as former players because I think that will draw a lot of kids.”
Schmitt said teaching his campers advanced concepts is difficult because of the time constraints and ages involved.
“At this age, trying to teach real technique is hard because they probably aren’t going to really understand it and grasp it,” he said. “We just do a couple of basic things and have some fun competitions.”
Schmitt said the primary purpose is to provide the kids with a real-life example of what can happen if they are willing to work hard.
Schmitt started his college career at Division III Wisconsin-River Falls, but he believed he had the ability to play for a Division I team. He and his mother drove up and down the East Coast distributing his highlight tape and shopping his services to potential colleges.
He landed at WVU as a walk-on, although he soon earned a scholarship because of his hard-nosed blocking and running.
“I just want to teach them about working hard and doing the right thing,” Schmitt said.
Although it might be hard to believe, the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Schmitt looks more intimidating than he did at WVU. The blonde-haired hulk now sports a thick, full goatee and has traded his Morgantown Mohawk for shoulder-length locks that curl under and stick out of his backward-turned WVU baseball cap.
“I feel like I’m in the best shape that I have been in in a while,” he said.
Schmitt hopes it leads to an increased role in Seattle’s offense.
“I’m just looking to get over that hump a little bit as far as breaking into the starting lineup,” said Schmitt, who finished his 38-game college career with 160 carries for 1,003 yards and 13 touchdowns and 32 catches for 288 yards and two scores. “I’m fired up.”
Schmitt appeared in 15 games and started one in each of his first two seasons with the Seahawks, who picked him in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He has five carries for 21 yards and 12 catches for 50 yards with one receiving touchdown in his professional career.
He is entering the third season of a four-year, $1.863 million contract.
Schmitt is working under his third head coach in as many years. Pete Carroll replaced Jim Mora (2009), who replaced Mike Holmgren (1999-2008).
“That has been a big shock,” Schmitt said. “I struggled the first two years just because I was kind of finding out who I was and what I had to do.”