In a normal year, Shadle Park senior Ryan Schmidt probably would have announced where he plans to play college football – or baseball, perhaps – in a national letter of intent ceremony at the school on Wednesday in front of family and friends.
There would have been handshakes and hugs to go around, laughter and maybe a couple of joyous tears as well.
But as we all know, this year has been anything but normal.
Schmidt is one of thousands of high school athletes across the country who missed out on their senior seasons of football this fall due to the pandemic. And while he holds out hope that a truncated season will be salvaged in the spring, that will do him little good in attracting any more scholarship offers to consider.
Instead, Schmidt continues to evaluate his baseball offer from Yakima Valley against several offers from smaller football schools as he still scrambles for the attention of coaches from bigger programs, relegated to reaching out via email or social media as those precious opportunities dry up.
He is keeping an upbeat attitude but admits to the disappointment of not playing and the disjointed recruiting process.
“It’s been really tough because it hasn’t been what I anticipated at all,” he said.
In addition to the fall season being postponed, junior day and campus visits in the spring were cancelled due to the pandemic, further limiting the exposure Schmidt hoped for.
“I didn’t really get to meet any coaches or be on campus anywhere,” he said. “Everything was scheduled to happen after things opened up, but that hasn’t happened yet.”
Schmidt is a strong student and at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds, brings good size and athleticism to any position he plays and any program willing to take a chance on him. That’s good, but it’s also part of the problem as his high school program needs him to play at a position he probably wouldn’t at the next level.
Most college programs envision Schmidt as a receiver or defensive back. His high school coach needs the ball in his hands most every play.
“Ryan is probably our best football athlete overall,” Shadle Park coach Jim Mace said. “We have some good players, but as far as athletic ability he’s way up there. He’s got the size. He’d be an all-league receiver, last year and this year, if we had another guy that would be a better option at starting quarterback.
“To Ryan’s credit, he’s stepped in and been a good leader there. That’s one thing that when I’ve talked to a few (college) coaches here or there, helped him with talking with college people he’s interested in for different schools and levels, we’ve kind of said he’s probably a receiver, maybe a (defensive back), but he’s playing quarterback because that’s how high school football works. We need our guy there to get the job done so our team has a chance of success.”
Mace praised his senior for sacrificing himself for the team.
“It says a lot about Ryan that he was willing to continue to do that,” he said. “He’s excited about playing quarterback this year, if we can get a season.”
Still, the coach knows the process has been difficult for his player.
“It’s an exciting time when you get a little bit of notice and coaches talk to you,” Mace said.
“(Schmidt) has had some of the smaller programs (reach out). … He thinks athletically, and with his size, he might be able to squeak in at a Division I school who would take a chance at him. The nice thing about Ryan is he’s got really good grades and good test scores and he’s going to get some scholarships academically, so he’s not caring as much about athletic scholarships, he just wants to see if he can make it and get the best opportunity possible.
“Without getting more film for him it’s one of those things where, ‘Here’s some receiver film from my sophomore year,’ but maybe not ultimately showing his full skill-set at this point.”
It’s left Schmidt to become creative in showing college coaches his skills at other positions – and his dedication to getting noticed.
Schmidt participated in an all-star game in Tacoma in October, organized by Tracy Ford of Ford Sports Performance, who trains many college-bound athletes on the west side of the state. The practices and game were videotaped for college recruiters.
It was an invitation-only, three-day mini-camp and game that involved up to 112 top in-state players and well-known guest coaches, according to the Seattle Times.
The all-star game came under some heat on the west side since it violated the Washington’s COVID-19 protocols.
“The governor’s office was not told ahead of time, and we would not have sanctioned this activity,’’ Gov. Jay Inslee’s spokeswoman Tara Lee told the Seattle Times. “This is a clear violation of the governor’s protocols for Pierce County.’’
The politics was out of Schmidt’s hands.
“I’m really just trying to get out and play,” Schmidt said. “It was a lot of top-rated dudes from the western side (of the state). It was good being able to compare myself against the guys who have the (national recruiting) stars and have the offers.”
Schmidt acknowledged the controversy but said it was worth it.
“I thought it was a great experience,” Schmidt said. “We wore our masks when we were inside, we social-distanced. When we were outside we did practice. For me, it really helped me out. I was really struggling with not playing.
“Seeing these guys in Idaho getting to play just right across the border – it just really helped me mentally, being able to go play again. I know (Ford) got some heat for it, but I don’t know why.”
Mace fully supports Schmidt’s enthusiasm and passion but has been advocating to his athletes the need to follow health protocols. He said he was aware of the all-star game from social media and wasn’t part of the decision for Schmidt to play.
“I asked a little after the fact how he did,” Mace said. “I’ve been really towing the line about, ‘Hey, I want you guys to be involved and glad that you want to do things and you love football.’ But on the other end, every positive COVID case reduces our chances of having a season.
“We’ve been more, as a coaching staff, ‘Be smart about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.’ If we want a season that’s got to be a big part of the dedication is just staying healthy.”
Mace has been able to hold a few practices with players in pods of six or fewer throughout the fall but nothing like the real thing.
“The camaraderie of having a team, being united around a cause, getting better – most of the guys that are good players for us like being in that competition on Friday nights. Losing out on that I think has been a big detriment.”
Mace echoed the sentiment of coaches throughout the state that for some students, athletics can be a key component in the entire educational process.
“When kids start missing out on (athletic) opportunities, unfortunately other things start falling to the wayside as well.”
Several high-profile players from the west side in Schmidt’s situation transferred to schools in states that didn’t postpone their football seasons, something the Shadle Park senior considered – briefly.
“When everything closed down I was really thinking about transferring,” Schmidt admits. “My dad works in Idaho. We were going to try maybe to figure something out.
“But for me, I’m loyal to Shadle Park. My mom’s a Shadle Park graduate. It would just really suck for me to go play over there and have everything open here (in the spring) and let my teammates down.”
Working the process
For now, Schmidt continues to pursue opportunities from bigger schools, especially the ones closest to Spokane, while he considers the offers he already has.
“Growing up in Eastern Washington, I have the schools I grew up watching and the schools my parents went to,” he said. “If they were to give me an opportunity it’d be something I’d jump on.
“The offers I do have, the opportunities I’ve been given are really, really good and not just athletically, but academically these schools have great programs. I could be really set for the future and that’s kind of what I cared most about when I’m picking a school right now.”
Mace understands Schmidt’s predicament and feels for him on a personal level.
“I know it’s been challenging for him, big time, just the disappointment of not being able to play,” he said. “A lot of the coaches he talked to in the spring and even this time last year were kind of, ‘Well, we really want to see something from your senior year,’ and if they’re not getting that opportunity you start seeing scholarships being filled up, or kids that maybe decided not to play college football because of COVID (this season) maybe get that extra year of eligibility and there’s maybe less room for others to get on to a team.
“It’s hurt Ryan quite a bit, I think.”
With vaccines starting to roll out Schmidt hopes the number of cases in the county recedes and the Greater Spokane League is able to play football in the spring.
“I’ve always had this feeling that things are going to work out and we’re going to get to play,” he said. “That I’ll have the opportunity to showcase all the extra work I’ve put in over this delay, this time away from the game.”
Mead: Braeden York, football (Carroll); Patrick Fricano, lacrosse (Washington State); Emma Thompson, swimming (Whitworth); Elijah Hainline, baseball (Washington State).
Mt. Spokane: Jaimyn Sides, basketball (Lewis-Clark State).
Cheney: Ben McGourin, football (Montana).
Pullman: Carson Coulter, baseball (Northwest Nazarene); Addison Hawes, volleyball (George Fox); Mikayla Uhlenkott, volleyball (Central Washington; Hyatt Utzman, baseball (Xavier); Brady Wells, baseball (Lower Columbia).
Colville: Ambrie Jones, softball (College of Idaho).
Northwest Christian: Ellie Sander, basketball (Lewis-Clark State).
St. George’s: Nicole Cook, swimming (Concordia University-Irvine).
Coeur d’Alene: Jackson Kohal, football (Air Force); Tyson Pottinger, football (Montana State); Jack Prka, football (Carroll); Troy Shepard, baseball (Wenatchee Valley).
Post Falls: Tommy Hauser, football (Idaho).
Moscow: Jonah Elliss, football (Utah).
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