John Michael Schmitz did not burst through the door to the New York Giants’ facility all full of swagger and bravado. The second-round pick out of Minnesota walked in the door ready roll up his sleeves and show his teammates they could have faith in him.
“You’ve got to earn their trust and that’s by how hard you work,” Schmitz said on Saturday, the day after the Giants used the 57th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft on a player they hope will be their center for years to come. “When you come in every day with a mindset that you’re going to get better and at the end of the day, trust is earned over time – with time, consistency and proof. Those three things don’t happen overnight.”
Two coaches who know Schmitz well — his high school offensive line coach Tom Cicero and his college offensive line coach Brian Callahan — were not at all surprised by Schmitz’ humble beginning with the Giants.
“It sounds exactly like him,” Callahan told Big Blue View during a recent phone conversation. “He’s confident, but not cocky. He understands that he’ll have to work. He’s earned everything he’s gotten to this point and he’ll continue to work.
“Getting drafted is one thing but becoming a good football player for the New York Giants is another. I know he’ll be committed to doing whatever he can to be the best he can.”
Callahan called Schmitz “the ultimate throwback football player.”
“He loves the game immensely,” Callahan said. “He’s very committed to a blue collar worth ethic mentality. Tough. Makes people around him better.”
Cicero, who was Schmitz’ offensive line coach at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Flossmoor, Ill., seconded that idea.
“He’s got that hard-hat mentality,” Cicero said. “He’s going to bring his lunch pail, he’s going to work and he’s going to show everyone that he’s a guy that has that natural leadership ability.”
The Giants have had a revolving door at center since a concussion sidelined Weston Richburg in 2017 and he subsequently signed in free agency with the San Francisco 49ers.
Spencer Pulley, Jon Halapio, Nick Gates, Billy Price and Jon Feliciano have all had turns at the team’s primary center since Richburg left. The Giants hope is that Schmitz will solidify that spot for years to come.
The Giants, though, aren’t handing Schmitz the starting job on a silver platter.
“Regardless of if it’s this offense or any other offense, you’ve come in from college and you’re playing against grown men up front. I’d say there’s a learning curve mentally, but there’s also a physical curve, too, and we won’t find that out until August,” said head coach Brian Daboll. “But this guy’s tough. He’s smart. He’s got a good frame. Former wrestler. Good leader. We’ll throw him in the mix, let him compete it out with the other guys and see how it ends up.”
Cicero didn’t know at the time that Schmitz would develop into an NFL player, but he was sure that “I saw him as a major Division I football player.”
Those major DI schools, though, weren’t so sure. Schmitz was not heavily recruited, choosing Central Michigan. The story gets interesting from there, and reveals something about Schmitz.
P.J. Fleck was the head coach at Central Michigan, and Callahan his offensive line coach. Fleck, though, would accept the Minnesota head-coaching position. He asked Schmitz to rescind his commitment to Central Michigan and go to Minnesota. Schmitz did. No visit to Minnesota needed. No questions asked.
“He really had a connection with those two guys. It was a relationship that was good from the start,” Cicero said. “He values relationships, and he wants to surround himself with people that he can have a relationship with.”
Cicero calls Schmitz a “great kid” and maintains his own relationship with the Giants’ new center.
“My two sons [one a freshman in college, one a freshman in high school] look up to him,” Cicero said. “I can only hope that they grow up to be as good of a young man as he is.”
On the field at Minnesota, there wasn’t instant stardom for Schmitz. He red-shirted in 2017 and played mostly on special teams in 2018. As a red-shirt sophomore in 2019, though, Schmitz began to open eyes. Including those of Fleck and Callahan.
Uncertain of its offensive line, Minnesota rotated players. The Golden Gophers narrowly won their first three games, but Fleck and Callahan weren’t satisfied with the offensive line play. Studying the situation during a bye week, they realized Schmitz needed to be on the field full time.
“As the year went on John Michael became the straw that stirs the drink and put it all together, made everybody better,” Callahan said.
Minnesota finished that season 11-2, beating No. 4 Penn State during the season and No. 12 Auburn in the Outback Bowl.
“I think that [playing Schmitz full-time]really catapulted us,” Callahan said. “That’s when I think it dawned on us how good this kid really was.”
Callahan said Schmitz plays like “a Great White Shark.”
“He’s always attacking, never full.”
In the full study above, Nick Falato lauded both Schmitz’ toughness and his technique. In a corresponding post, he wrote:
John Michael Schmitz is a high-floor technician with efficient footwork, strong grip strength, and the mentality of my bulldog when the mailman is outside. He finishes blocks, and he will embody the mantra of smart, tough, and dependable.
Cicero said you could see even as a high school kid that Schmitz had an advanced understanding of how to play the offensive line.
“He’s a technician and he’s got brute strength,” Cicero said. “His ability to out-leverage defensive linemen is second to none. He knows how to put his body in a position to succeed and get underneath defensive linemen.
“He is very, very good with his hands and he also has the ability to run after contact. You see so many young offensive linemen who don’t have that ability to roll their hips and run their feet. He has that ability.”
Scouting reports on Schmitz raise questions about his length, and say there is nothing exceptional about his athleticism. “Hogwash” was Callahan’s reaction to doubts about Schmitz.
“Put on the tape, watch the tape. He’s as good or better than anybody out there. I know it. I’ve seen it,” Callahan said. “I think that he’s quick as hell. I think he’s tough as hell. I think that he’s got a mentality that separates him from a lot of people.
“He’s a damn talented football player.”