October 16, 2009

Schofield's resiliency paying huge dividends

MADISON - When handed something difficult in life, there are two ways you can approach it.

One, lower your guard and let the challenge take advantage of you and steal your pride and mental toughness.

Or two, face up to the task and power through, no matter how difficult that said task might be.

For senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield, there was never a hesitation when deciding what route to take regarding his football career. Now, midway through his senior year, all that hard work is paying dividends.

"If anybody knew how hard I worked and the sacrifices I made just to stay here in the summer because it meant the world to me to have a great year," Schofield said. "Coach Charlie Partridge sat down and told me things that I need to work on after watching film last year.

"He sat down and watched film with me. I just really want to be a good player because I know I didn't have a lot of time left."

Six games into his final season, Schofield has been better than good. He has been great.

He has been not just the Big Ten's biggest surprise, but also arguably the nations biggest. He leads America with 14.5 tackles-for-loss (two more than the next player) and the conference with 6.5 sacks (two more than the next).

He has been the self-described spark for a defensive unit that had many question marks entering the season. And that was exactly what he set out to do.

"I'm sure a lot of people didn't expect this coming," senior linebacker Jaevery McFadden said following a recent practice. "I always knew he was a good player and I already knew he was going to have a good season, but the intensity and the level he's playing, it's every game."

At one point though, the production Schofield has had did not seem to be a realistic option. While being recruited, Schofield was projected as a linebacker. However, when both DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, two players now in the NFL, started for multiple years at their respective linebacker positions, the day when Schofield would see the field there as a starter was simply not realistic.

"Those guys were more experienced that me," Schofield said. "They came from some good high school programs where they knew what to do and the depth allowed them to play early. I just stuck in there. I'm telling you, it was really hard. I can't say that I took it with a grain of salt, because I didn't. At times I was frustrated because I didn't understand why I wasn't on the field.

"In the end, all the trials and stuff I went through, mentally, made me stronger. When I finally did get that opportunity, I wasn't going to let that go."

So, the position change to defensive end was made. And with it, Schofield set his mind and became extremely dedicated and focused to do what he could to establish himself as a legitimate Big Ten player.

"Really just his commitment to keeping everything in his life on track," defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said. "He's really doing a great job in the class room and it's carrying over to his life with football. He's organized now better than he ever has been. He has time committed to football and he knows it in his schedule, he has time committed to school and knows it in his schedule and it's all clicking for him now."

Always, a spiritual man, Schofield relies on that faith to guide him in his everyday path. On game day's, that path results in multiple prayers with his teammates and coaches, a final study session on keys and opponent strengths and weaknesses for that week, more prayers and a steady dose of gospel music on his iPod.

So when asked what fuels him, Schofield did not hesitate to respond.

"Just the privilege to play on this football team," Schofield said. "Because my journey to where I'm at was tough. I feel like I worked hard for it. Some guys they get it handed to them because of lack of depth. That wasn't like that for me. I really had to go through a lot of transition, a lot of heartache and pain and I lost my brother. Just all those motivational things to keep me going and keep me pushing.

"Now, where I'm at right now, I can look back and it was worth it."

When Wisconsin plays host to undefeated Iowa, Schofield will have another opportunity to showcase his skills. He will be pitted against one of the Big Ten's best tackles in Bryan Bulaga, but if the first six games were any indication, Schofield will be out there making plays yet again.

"God must bless him," McFadden said. "Because he'll be out there balling…Balling out of control."

And based on his dedication and work ethic, Schofield wouldn't have it any other way.

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