A small crowd sat sporadically around the bar at Chickie's and Pete's Café in Northeast Philadelphia on a rainy Wednesday evening. On stage, a group of teenagers known as The Philadelphia School of Rock, blast out the melody to many classic rock songs, most recorded decades before they were born. In the shadows stood a large silhouette inconspicuously harmonizing with the band on his guitar. Occasionally, he took his turn in the spotlight, a position not familiar for the musician, Philadelphia Eagles fullback, Owen Schmitt.
As lead blocker for the NFL's second leading rusher, Lesean McCoy, Schmitt is accustomed to a life as the unsung hero. Even from a young age, Schmitt had to fight for recognition on the football field. After transferring high schools, shortly after the start of his junior year, his career nearly came to a premature end. "I had to get voted on the team." Schmitt told me. "Because it was so late before the start of the season, I didn't know if I was going to get to play."
Despite the setback, Schmitt earned unanimous All-Conference and Liberty District Most Valuable Player accolades at Fairfax High School, in Fairfax, Virginia, while leading the conference in rushing.
Schmitt enrolled at Wisconsin-River Falls in 2003, where he led the team with 193 carries for 1,063 yards and five touchdowns in nine starts. He was brought into a meeting at the end of his freshman year, and told that his talent level may have acceded the smaller program.
According to Schmitt, "My coach told me after the season, ‘I think you should look at other opportunities.' So me and my mom made a couple of highlight tapes and drove around to schools on the east coast. Then West Virginia gave me a chance. I worked my butt off and it evolved into this."
A walk-on at West Virginia, Schmitt quickly worked his way up to a starting role, spearheading the schools three headed monster along with Steve Slaton, and Pat White. Aside from his impressive rushing numbers, Schmitt's devastating blocks resulted in seventeen touchdowns during his senior year. Schmitt's most impressive stat defined his tenure at West Virginia. During his three years with the program, he broke 10 facemasks.
Schmitt was drafted in the 5th round of the 2008 NFL Draft, by the Seattle Seahawks. During his two year stint in Seattle, Schmitt's playing time decreased as the Seahawks began phasing out the need for a fullback. In 2010 he was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, a move which rejuvenated his career. "Getting let go in Seattle after two tough seasons, then coming here and having a great year last year. It has been a wild ride, that's for sure."
During his collegiate and pro career, Schmitt has been defined by his hard nosed, tough-guy attitude. Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com described his contributions, "Fullback is an anachronism in the modern offense. Guys like Schmitt may spearhead a comeback."
Mike Wise of the Washington Post wrote, "He rumbles like a beer truck with a broken parking brake." Craig James of the ESPN Network stated, "He's got a forehead made of steel." Commentator Gary Danielson said: "This guy is a folk hero in West Virginia. He does it with pure power."
Former West Virginia head coach, Rich Rodriguez also said, "Part of what he did in that [Louisville] game, and what we try to embody in our program, is playing tough and physical all the way from the first play to the last play. That is Owen Schmitt."
And finally the quote most appealing to Philadelphia fans, by Bruce Feldman, a senior writer at ESPN the Magazine, when he stated, "Truth is, no one better epitomizes the rugged image of this blue-collar program [West Virginia] that literally pounded its way to respect."
So a blue-collar, underdog that leaves everything on the football field; one who exemplifies the tough guy attitude Philadelphia fans eat up...Sounds familiar. Sounds like every sports hero this city holds dear. Brings up thoughts of Vince Papale, Joe Frazier, and dare I say, Rocky Balboa.
In fact Schmitt's entire persona may relate more to the fictional hero, than any other athlete currently representing the city of Philadelphia. If I were to envision one player that exemplifies the "Rocky Attitude" it would be Owen Schmitt. "That is a huge compliment. I've never heard that before. Especially how much the city embraces that whole movie. Living how he's blue collar, that's awesome. Football has been my life forever, and the fact that I've gotten the chance to keep it going and wind up in Philly. It's definitely a place where I feel I belong."
Although Schmitt embodies Philadelphia, his number 32 jersey rarely is seen in local memorabilia stores. His name, rarely mentioned over the PA system. However that is not an issue for Owen Schmitt. He embraces his role as the silent assassin.
As the band wraps up, members of the School of Rock take turns saying goodbye to their famous band-mate. One by one the once wide eyed kids embrace their new hero. Not just a hero on the football field, but off the field as well. A hero these kids can relate to. One who may go unnoticed on the stat sheet, but not by the opposition. A hard working role model for a young breed of Philadelphia fans.
While many people contemplate whose jersey they should purchase for the holiday season, I hope I will not be alone in adorning the midnight green 32.
For more information on the Philadelphia School Of Rock and to find out about their upcoming camps, check out their website.