Backup Gophers punter deserves a Senior Day send-off, too

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 23, 2012 - 7:29 AM

The Gophers holder and backup punter, David Schwerman, will take his rightful place on Senior Day.

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David Schwerman (38)

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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When the Schwerman family gathers around the Thanksgiving table three or four decades from now, when the 12-year-old junior high athlete who is obsessed with football asks his grandpa about his own days playing Big Ten football, here's what little David III will hear: David Schwerman was a so-so punter and an OK kickoff man, true enough, though he never got to do much of either at Minnesota.

But man, Grandpa was a hellacious tackler.

There was this one time, against mighty Ohio State, a top-10 team, when a speedy kick returner named Jordan Hall was racing up the sidelines for a certain touchdown. When out of nowhere, David Schwerman suddenly materialized, knocked Hall to the ground, and saved the day for Minnesota.

"Well, it was more of a force-out-of-bounds, but it counts as a tackle," Schwerman said with a laugh, just days before his final home game as a Gopher. "Maybe 40 years down the road, it'll be an open-field tackle."

The point is, the 22-year-old fifth-year senior, who has settled into a new role this year as the Gophers' placekick holder, has great moments and fond memories, same as MarQueis Gray, same as Troy Stoudermire, same as any other football player who devoted five years of his life to a program that might not have won many games, but provided plenty of value nonetheless.

"I'm definitely satisfied with my career. I got a lot out of football," said Schwerman, whose meager career totals amount to 16 kickoffs, five punts, only one longer than 31 yards -- and that tackle. "Hey, it was against Ohio State," he said.

'I learned so much'

Noted. But does that make up for dozens of 6 a.m. practices, hundreds of weight-room sessions, the blocking sleds, the tire-flipping, and all those Saturdays when he pulled on a uniform, then never appeared in the game? As you might expect, in Schwerman's mind, the sacrifice and the benefits don't come close to evening out.

He got the better of the deal, by far.

"It wasn't so much the playing time for me as everything else -- I learned so much. Becoming a man, learning what hard work is, committing yourself to something completely, and making sacrifices to accomplish your goals," Schwerman said. "This team really feels like a brotherhood this year, and it's a great group of guys, my best friends. Even though I'm not a huge contributor on the field, nobody really cares about that."

No, they care about him, and vice versa.

"He sticks it out because he loves Minnesota, he loves this team," senior linebacker Mike Rallis said. "He's a leader of this team. The specialists look to him for wisdom."

And he likes to share it, to help others achieve what he only rarely did. Schwerman grew up about a half-hour west of Milwaukee, graduated as Kettle Moraine High's career leading scorer, and came to Minnesota to enroll in the Carlson School of Business and walk on to the football team. Now he travels during the summer as an instructor at punting and kicking camps, and acts as an unpaid assistant on the Gophers' special teams.

"He's like a coach on the field," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said. "He didn't have to come back, but he likes being part of a team. He's the most respected guy in that group" of special teams players.

Committed to the end

Schwerman considered leaving a year ago. He had a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance, and a job waiting for him in the trucking company founded by his great-grandfather a century ago. Despite the Gophers' standing as the 11th-ranked punting team in the Big Ten, he had not been able to unseat starter Dan Orseske.

"Four years is a long time, and I didn't know if I wanted to go through another winter" of daily workouts, Schwerman said. But after talking to Kill, to his family and friends, "I realized it's just what I wanted to do, in my gut."

Kill offered to make Schwerman the placekicking holder, and give him a shot at punting once more. He booted a 43-yarder on opening night in Las Vegas, but then shanked a 19-yarder on his next try. The Gophers switched to newcomer Christian Eldred on the next kick, and Schwerman hasn't punted since.

But he's been no less committed to the Gophers.

"He's done a great job of helping Christian this year. He's worked hard to make [kicker] Jordan [Wettstein] successful," special teams coach Jay Sawvel said. "Football takes so many people who don't get the limelight but still have a role to play. We're better than we would be without him."

And he's better, too, Schwerman said -- in work ethic. In determination. In ping-pong.

"He's probably the best ping-pong player on the team," quarterback MarQueis Gray said. "He's really competitive."

So competitive, he stuck around for five years. He'll be one of 15 seniors honored before Saturday's game in TCF Bank Stadium.

"It's been a long journey," Schwerman said. "It's a decision I'll never regret."

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