SEATTLE – Chris Petersen doesn’t usually attend the Washington Huskies’ defensive line meetings, but he pops in every now and then, so Drew Schultz wasn’t tremendously surprised to see the UW coach standing in the back of the meeting room one day late in fall camp.
It wasn’t until Jeff Choate, the defensive line coach, flipped on video of some of Schultz’s best hustle plays from practice that Petersen revealed the reason for his presence that day.
“That’s what it’s supposed to look like,” Petersen told the room, referring to the effort of Schultz, who walked on his first four seasons at UW after graduating from Olympia High.
Then came the news: “Drew, that’s why you’re on scholarship this year.”
“Head down, no words,” Schultz said after Tuesday’s practice, remembering the moment. “I wanted to be like, ‘thank you, thank you,’ and jump up and down. All the d-linemen were jumping up and down. I shed a few tears. It was pretty awesome how it happened.”
Schultz ran outside right away to call his parents, Kim and Pat Schultz, who live in Olympia.
Thinking of that call, Kim said via telephone on Tuesday, “I think I could cry right now.”
“For him to have everything validated, all his hard work – I think I cried most of the time,” she said with a laugh. “It was awesome. It was a great way to end his senior year.”
Earning a scholarship is the dream of every walk-on, and Schultz was no different. He said he tried not to think too much about it, knowing nothing was guaranteed, but admits to crunching the scholarship numbers each fall to figure out if he had a chance.
“I always look at the numbers – ‘86 guys, I don’t know if it’s going to work,’” Schultz said. “Unfortunately for a couple guys, it didn’t work out with them in fall camp and a scholarship opened up, and Coach Petersen blessed me with a scholarship. It was a surreal feeling. It was something I could never imagine, really.”
“No way were we expecting it senior year,” Kim said.
After a stellar prep career, Schultz, an undersized lineman – he’s listed at 6-foot-2, 266 pounds now, but was more like 240-245 when he enrolled – said he received some interest from Montana and Eastern Washington, with EWU coaches hinting at the possibility of offering a scholarship.
When that opportunity fell through, Schultz turned to UW, which under former coach Steve Sarkisian had been recruiting him as a preferred walk-on. Kim knew former offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier thanks to her Lake Oswego, Oregon roots, and so the Schultz family felt comfortable with Drew’s decision to carve out whatever role he could as a walk-on at a Pac-12 school.
Schultz knew playing time, if any, would be minimal, but he says he’s always been the kind of guy who cares more about whether the team wins than he does about how much he plays.
The life of a walk-on, of course, is exponentially more difficult than that of a player on scholarship – especially when it comes to finances. Kim said she and her husband paid their son’s tuition, but that Schultz had to work as an umpire for a Seattle softball league to earn rent and spending money.
He didn’t play a snap his first two years. But as a third-year sophomore in 2012, he made his collegiate debut and even started at defensive tackle in a victory over Utah. And at the team’s end-of-season awards banquet that year, he was given the Mark Drennan Defensive Scout of the Year award for his efforts on the Huskies’ scout team.
As a junior, he appeared in two games, blowout victories over Idaho State and Oregon State. When Sarkisian left for USC, it would have been understandable if Schultz, already through four years as a college football walk-on, had simply called it a career, secured his degree and moved into the work force.
“We told him going into his fifth year – ‘don’t do this if it’s just for us. Make sure it’s for you,’” Kim said. “He just wanted to see it all the way through.”
His effort immediately caught the attention of Petersen and his first-year coaching staff.
Choate said Schultz will “take it upon himself to make sure the younger guys are working their tails off and doing things correctly, and if they’re slumping down there, he’s on ‘em like a coach, and he’s letting us know, ‘hey, we’re not giving the offense a good enough look.’
“It was special to be able to reward him for his hard work and his loyalty to our program by getting him on scholarship early in the fall. He’s very, very deserving. I think he epitomizes the type of young man that we want in this program.”
His mom calls him “an incredible older brother” to his two younger brothers, Conner, who plays linebacker at the University of Redlands, and Evan, a senior at Olympia High who plays football and baseball. Drew taught them the value of hard work and leadership, his mother said.
Schultz’s parents, both sets of his grandparents, plus “aunts, cousins – everybody,” were in attendance for his final game at Husky Stadium last weekend.
So they all saw when Schultz was sent into the game in the fourth quarter, and when he tackled Oregon State running back Damien Haskins, and when a group of players and coaches on the Huskies’ sideline went bonkers in celebration.
“It was the most incredible feeling,” Kim said, choking back tears. “It was really so incredibly cool. I could not have asked for a better end for him at Husky Stadium. … It was so cool to me that his teammates respected him so much.”
Now, as he prepares for his final Apple Cup game against Washington State, Schultz knows his career spent in relative obscurity was worth it. He’ll graduate with a major in Sociology and a minor in Law, Societies and Justice, and hopes to enter the business world or, perhaps, coach football.
“At the end of the day, it’s been a journey, and it’s been an awesome one at that,” Schultz said. “I’ve loved mostly every moment here. There’s been a few times where it’s been a little low, but I’ve loved my time here, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple