ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Spring football games are glorified practices. The fourth quarter of a spring game generally gets its most scrutiny from people looking at their watches. That’s not the case for Nate Schoenle and other non-scholarship players. Any chance they get to make an impression on a coach has to be seized upon.
Schoenle impressed Michigan coaches during winter conditioning and spring drills, and when he got his chance in this year’s spring game, he capitalized on it. Schoenle made a diving catch of a Brandon Peters pass for a 40-yard gain that set up the deciding field goal and eliminated any chance of head coach Jim Harbaugh practicing overtime.
Harbaugh has been singing the praises of Schoenle ever since, and the sophomore from Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard High School is pushing for playing time in a wide receiver group littered with star power. Freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones was a 5-star recruit and the No. 11 player in the country last season, according to the 247Sports composite ranking system. There are four other 4-star players and two 3-star players just in the last two recruiting classes.
Schoenle has found a way to fit into the group. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Schoenle received just one scholarship offer, from Division II Hillsdale College (Mich.), but when Michigan kicks off its season on Sept. 2 against Florida, he is expected to suit up and contribute in some way, shape or form.
“I know I came here to play football. I didn’t come here just to be in the practice,” Schoenle said. “I want to play in the games, I want to run on the field and play in front of 100,000 people, but I didn’t have any idea of how long that would take or in what capacity that would form. I just told myself to keep my head down and work hard. Hopefully, coaches will notice.”
They’ve noticed. Harbaugh has made unsolicited mention of Schoenle when he talks about the wide receivers, including during Big Ten media days last month in Chicago.
“Sometimes, to be acknowledged by the head coach, or any coach, when sometimes you feel like you’re not in as high of a position as some of the other guys, when you hear you’re doing a great job, that just motivates you even more,” Schoenle said. “Then, you do more, and you get more positive feedback and you keep doing more. It keeps adding fuel to the fire to keep going.”
Schoenle said he begged his mom, Janna, in the fourth grade to let him play football. She agreed the next year. She ran sprints in track. Jerry Schoenle, Nate’s father, and his brother, Mike, were both distance runners growing up. Nate said he has other relatives that still run, but he has always loved football.
Kekoa Crawford and Schoenle were roommates last year. Crawford was a 4-star prospect out of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., and the No. 126-ranked player in the country. Schoenle doesn’t have that kind of reputation, but that isn’t how Crawford views him.
“I learned something from Nate every day. That’s just one of those dudes you learn from every day,” Crawford said. “Something he does you can apply to your game one way or another. His work ethic is crazy. I see him out here before practice before anybody, he’s here after. He watches film. He does it all, and he’s really trying to make his mark. I feel like he’s going to do that, too.”
Schoenle made a mark in this year’s spring game. It’s another step on the path for the walk-on who is just trying to prove every day that he does belong on the field.
“It was definitely special. It was a lot of fun. I was grinning after making that play,” said Schoenle of the diving catch. “It was a great feeling because we had 60,000 people at our spring game, or something like that. It was important because I was proving myself to me, in a way, that I can play, I can make these plays to be at this level on a big stage.”
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