Donald Hammond III, Isaiah Sanders and Michael Schmidt have each practiced this week, so it looks like Air Force will have decisions to make at quarterback.
When they’ve each been healthy, they’ve stacked up in order of Hammond-Sanders-Schmidt since last November.
But that was before Schmidt had a breakout performance at Hawaii last week, earning Mountain West Player of the Week honors after going 5-of-6 passing for 147 yards and a touchdown and running 14 times for 120 yards and three touchdowns in a 56-26 victory.
The decision might be made easier if Hammond, who didn’t participate in throwing drills in his first return after hurting his shoulder on Tuesday, isn’t fully healthy. Sanders is also recovering from a leg injury that kept him from traveling to Hawaii. So if Schmidt is the only option at 100 percent, the Falcons might simply ride the hot hand and stick with him against Utah State for Saturday’s 8:15 p.m. contest at Falcon Stadium.
Coach Troy Calhoun doesn’t comment on injuries or, generally, depth-chart matters; so he offered little in the way of insight into the decision-making process at the position.
“I like to utilize a full week of practice before I make that evaluation,” Calhoun said.
Schmidt, a senior who had never attempted a pass before Saturday, said he’d be accepting of any role.
“If I do have to play Saturday, it’s going to be the same mentality,” Schmidt said. “I’m going into this week with the same mindset I always have. I’m going to play my role. If they need me, I’m going to do what I can do. At the end of the day, it’s not really about me. We’ve got a lot of capable athletes on this team, whether it’s me or D.J. or Isaiah.”
Before the team does potentially move Schmidt back to a reserve role, let’s take a look back at some of the stories and comments that emerged from his “whirlwind” week after providing one of most surprising performances for an Air Force quarterback in years.
Scott Schmidt, Mike’s father, was on a business trip to Grand Rapids, Mich., this past weekend, so his parents did not make the trip to Hawaii.
Scott was at a brewery late Saturday and checked the Air Force score, noticing quickly that Mike had a carry. Knowing that likely meant a quarterback change had taken place (Hammond had gone down with a shoulder injury), Mike asked that the game be put on television.
Scott’s excitement obviously spread throughout the bar.
“I had a random guy from Grand Rapids tag me in a post and a video of my dad just super excited,” Mike said.
Mike’s mother, Kim, is a high school home economics teacher in North Carolina and a former physical education teacher and basketball coach.
“I’m from a family of people who love to coach and be around sports,” Mike said.
Among the flood of congratulatory messages he received after the game, two stood out to Schmidt.
One was from Nate Romine, the longtime Air Force quarterback who started at least one game in five consecutive years.
Romine, the program’s established quarterback through Schmidt’s early time at Air Force, sent an all-caps note of excitement.
“To hear from someone like him – I admired him my whole time here, looked up to him – to get support from a guy whose done it before, it meant a lot,” Schmidt said.
Another was from another former Falcons quarterback, Pate Davis.
Davis’s role was comparable to Schmidt’s, in that he was a respected part of the team, a quality student, but was rarely given playing time.
Davis reached out to tell Schmidt it was good to see his hard work pay off.
“I’ll be honest with you, he’s one of the guys I looked up to the most,” Schmidt said. “I know a lot of times people look up to the guy who’s getting all the snaps and all the accolades, but he’s a great man. He’s the one who showed me around when I was a senior in high school, looking around campus. He had a big impact on me from the start. Just to hear words from him, that meant a lot.”
Air Force brought Schmidt into the middle of the huddle in the locker room after the game, allowing him to make a short speech.
He thanked his teammates and coaches and expressed how much they mean to him in an emotional talk.
“It was kind of overwhelming,” Schmidt said. “That’s a moment I’ll never forget, definitely.”
Senior safety Jeremy Fejedelem said Schmidt wasn’t the only one getting choked up in the moment.
“It was really emotional for the whole team,” Fejedelem said. “It was really cool.”
The respect Schmidt garners from his teammates has been obvious.
Defenders Demonte Meeks and Milton (Tre’) Bugg III went out of their way to express their excitement for Schmidt following the game without being specifically asked about him.
That carried over into the week, with receiver Ben Waters – another senior who had to wait until his final year to make an impact on the field – paying the ultimate compliment.
“You just get that vibe that this is the kind of kid that, quite frankly, you’d let date your daughter,” Waters said.
Waters shares the same sponsor family with Schmidt, along with Taven Birdow, Jake Ksiazek and Grant Theil, so they have bonded over times watching NFL games, “Game of Thrones,” and comedians on Netflix.
“He’s just that kind of guy you always want to hang out with,” Waters said.
“Oh gosh, I’ve never been so excited for someone. It was unreal just watching him get that opportunity. He’s been waiting for a long time and he’s more than capable.”
Schmidt has instantly turned into a symbol of the consummate teammate – a player who paid his dues, knew and accepted his role and kept himself ready for his opportunity while unsure if that opportunity would ever present itself.
“Schmidt was ready when his number was called because he prepared every day as if (t)he team really, really needed him,” Air Force women’s basketball coach Chris Gobrecht tweeted. “How can any athlete be ready when called upon if they don’t have that attitude EVERY day in practice!”
Asked by local television media what message he would give to a player trying to accept a similarly non-glamorous role within a program, Schmidt said this: “Always, if you can’t get yourself better every single day, get someone else better.”
He said that has long been his approach, particularly when playing with younger teammates while running with the third or fourth team.
“Those are the guys who are going to be the future of our team,” he said. “Just to put people in position to succeed, if that’s going to be my role then that’s an awesome role to have.”
Naturally, Schmidt couldn’t sleep on the long first late-night leg of the flight home from Honolulu to Oakland.
“It was a little surreal,” Schmidt said. “But I wasn’t over the top jittery or anything.”
But he had company for the flight.
The team brought the Kuter Trophy – named for the late Gen. Laurence S. Kuter and given to the victor in each meeting between Air Force and Hawaii – to the seat next to Schmidt.
“They wanted me to have it in my hands a little bit,” he said.
“It was a whirlwind of a weekend, for sure.”