Schmitt bids to be Seahawks' 12th man

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- The Seahawks' 12th man has a name. It's Owen Schmitt.

He's a hardworking, up-through-the-ranks regular guy who has a chance to make a significant contribution to the team this season. Everything he has, he has earned with equal measures of determination and perseverance.

Schmitt, the team's fifth-round draft choice out of West Virginia, is a fullback candidate. He's a 6-foot-2, 247-pound rock who has decent hands, strong blocking skills and an all-out attitude on the field. That's appealing for 12th man fans everywhere.

"They (fans) identify with me. They know my story a little bit, coming up from where I was," Schmitt said during a break in the Seahawks minicamp on Sunday. "It's been a lot of hard work from where I was at. It's a big reason why people look up to me, I guess."

Where Schmitt was in high school was nowhere. Born and raised in the small Wisconsin town of Gilman, his family moved to Fairfax, Va., when he was 14. He played at Fairfax High, a small program that wasn't particularly good. He had no college coaches paying attention to him as well as some academic qualifying issues.

Schmitt played one season for Division III Wisconsin-River Falls Community College, but wanted more. He believed he could play on the major college level so he and his mother visited three colleges, including West Virginia.

"I had a buddy who I went to high school with who went there (WVA)," Schmitt said. "I told him, 'I hope you have an extra bed. I'm just going to come in as a walk-on.'"

Without an appointment or notice, he dropped off some videos of his River Falls games with the coaching staff and told them he would be turning out for practice the next year. He had to sit out a year because of the transfer rule but did what he could do on the scout team. He also dazzled in the weight room, winning the Iron Mountaineer Award for his lifting prowess.

"There were times during the year when I was redshirting that I wondered if this was for me," he said. "Then in spring ball, the reason I got a look was because two of our running backs went down with ankle injuries. They put me at halfback so I had to learn two positions, halfback and fullback. The coaches saw I could do more than one thing so they decided to throw a scholarship my way."

A legend was born. He would gain 1,003 yards, a 6.3 yard average, in his 38 games for West Virginia, with 13 touchdowns. He also caught 32 passes for 288 yards, a 9.0-yard average. The Mountaineers were on the way to the national championship game until their 16-13 upset by Pittsburgh on Nov. 25. They finished with an 11-2 record, including a 48-28 trouncing of No. 3 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Schmitt had a 57-yard touchdown run in that game.

But the statistic Schmitt is known for the most is 11 career broken facemasks.

"I think the 11th was in the Fiesta Bowl," he said. "I don't know exactly when it happened. It's just from blocking, I guess, running and stuff. It didn't break; it just bent and stuff. For metal to bend, I guess it is pretty intense."

That kind of intensity made Schmitt a fan favorite in Morgantown, as much for his on-field efforts as his off-field stories. There was the story of chewing and swallowing a beer coaster in 10 seconds so he make the wall of fame at a local pub. He grew a shaggy mohawk, quite distinctive on the Morgantown campus. He earned the nickname Runaway Beer Truck.

"He's a different breed," said Gil Haskell, the Seahawks' offensive coordinator. "He's a breath of fresh air, and that's good for us."

Haskell also will like Schmitt's work ethic.

"I still have a lot of work ahead. I hope I can be a strong blocker, help the short passing game and get some tough yardage when they did it," Schmitt said. "And as many special teams as I can make. That's the type of guy I am. That's what I need to be."

That's what the 12th man fans hope to see in September.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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