By Corey Vann
Published on Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Getting injured while playing a sport is never fun. It is especially brutal when you strain your hip flexor in your first ever practice as a collegiate athlete. But that’s how my freshman preseason commenced at Dartmouth, which by default put me on the sidelines, where I was able to get a better perspective of what I was getting myself into for the next four years.
Naturally, I evaluated my competition and scanned the gridiron to see what kind of team we were shaping up to be for the upcoming season. I had the fortune of having some good company on the sidelines with me in fellow wideout James O’Brien ’10, and I constantly picked his brain.
Even though there was definitely a higher level of play in college and a more organized structure of practice than I was accustomed to seeing at the high school level, nothing really stood out to me until the final installment of practice, which is called “team period.” The second-string offense was on the field, and the play was a simple stretch handoff to the running back. There was traffic in the hole, but the tailback made a devastating spin move. He then used sheer speed to outrun the entire defense to the end zone. That was when I said to my sideline companion, “Okay. Now who is that guy?”
That guy was Nick Schwieger ’12. The only reason Schwieger was running with the twos at the beginning of training camp was out of respect for his running-mate Rob Mitchelson ’10, who was entering his senior year. Schwieger made the whole Dartmouth community proud on Saturday, when he signed a contract to play for the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.
When you watch Schwieger play, it’s hard not to think of New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead. In terms of physical stature and skill set, Schwieger and Woodhead are almost mirror images of each other. But in my opinion, the most striking similarity between the two is their path to the NFL. Both played their college ball at small schools — Woodhead played at tiny Division-II Chadron State College — and both were signed as free agents directly after the draft.
For those of you who are not familiar with Woodhead, let me present you with a name you may have heard this winter — Jeremy Lin. Although Schwieg-sanity doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, if Nick is able to make the Rams final roster and make an impact in the pros, you can bet the house that there will be plenty of national hype.
The obvious connection between the two is that both Lin and Schwieger attended Ivy League institutions. But when you dig deeper, you will find that both athletes were overlooked by larger schools in their respective areas and have continuously had to silence critics every step of the way. Schwieger’s ability was undeniable at the high school level. However, when FBS schools like Boston College were thinking about offering Nick a scholarship, there was always some unspoken reservation. And I believe that reservation stemmed from the current prevailing wisdom regarding white running backs in football.
I tried to think of the white running backs currently in the NFL, and I got as far as Woodhead, Peyton Hillis, Toby Gerhart and Brian Leonard before I had to cheat on Google. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that, like Lin, some aspect of ethnic prejudice has stunted Schwieger’s path to the NFL.
When former Dartmouth offensive coordinator Jim Pry, who came from coaching Big Ten-caliber talent at the University of Illinois, used to watch film of Schwieger, he would always remark, “This kid could play against anyone in the country.” But in reality, Schwieger wasn’t playing against anyone in the country. He was playing against Ivy Leaguers. And when NFL scouts consider this factor, they usually think, “Oh, he was just beating up on a bunch of soft, nerdy kids. Let’s see what happens when he has to pick up Ray Lewis on a blitz.”
Lin dealt with the same type of skepticism from NBA scouts, and the reason he was able to turn the doubters into believers was his work ethic — the same reason for which I think Schwieger has a legitimate shot at making a name for himself in the league. When Schwieger found out that he was going to the Rams, he posted a tweet that said, “#dreamchasin.” Notice how he understands that the dream isn’t fully realized. While it’s very cool to have the opportunity to play in the NFL, Schwieger’s real dream is to seize that opportunity and make it happen — that’s when his dream will be truly fulfilled.