Schmidt passed for 3004 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2014, setting those HHS marks in his first full year as trigger man. He has thrown for more yards and TDs than any other returning QB in the mountains.
Mike Schmidt rumbles for a TD against North Knights. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Last year, his top target was Cole Cleary. Cleary led high schoolers across the nation in receiving yardage for much of last year. He accounted for most (a WNC-record 1,818) of Schmidt’s passing yards and TDs. Cleary now plays for Wofford College. Head coach Eric Gash and crew converted Cleary from QB to receiver, when he returned from injury early last season.
North Henderson is similarly switching a large QB, Ashton Woodring (6-2, 220 sr.), to be a potentially dominant target for QB Trevor Craft (6-1, 180 sr.). Coach Jason Dinwiddie likes his new “good weapon.”
West Henderson was the feel-good story of 2014, going 8-5 with a star senior backfield. New QB Brandon Whitaker (5-9, 150 jr.) led JV to 17-3 in two years. He is the sharp son of head coach Paul Whitaker, who cites a strong new “supporting cast” of runners.
West is the lone local team to start the season at home, versus Madison at 7:30 p.m. Thus the Falcons will kick off The Tribune team profile series Aug. 26. HHS is at Murphy, North at Roberson and East at East Rutherford.
Mike Schmidt dives for the end zone, against East Eagles. Photo by Pete Zamplas
East Henderson John McMillan sees varying “strengths” in a trio of now-seniors again contending to be quarterback. They are gutty and strong-armed Trace Goldsmith (6-2, 210 sr.), versatile Austin Pritchard (5-8, 145 sr.) who started 11 games in ’14, and bulked-up QB-LB Kyle Frady (6-2, 232 sr.) once back from injury by game three. Lanky lefty Preston Owens (6-1 1/2 jr., 153 jr.) waits in the Eagle wings. In play-calling, Coach Mac said, “we’ll cater to their strengths.”
Such QB hopefuls look to Schmidt’s emergence in ’14, as proof opportunity can knock — and loudly. With Cleary injured, Schmidt sparkled starting in week two after missing the opener with a concussion. Cleary returned as a receiver, initially as a transition back then indefinitely.
Michael Cook is the new go-to receiver with “the same trust” as with Cleary, Schmidt said. Yet “we’ll spread the ball out to others.”
Now Schmidt has focus on him from the get-go, as the area’s top passer. He calls that “ more of a blessing and honor, than a target. It gives me a peace of mind. It’s what I worked hard for — and can achieve again.”
Schmidt (6-3, 190 sr.) threw for the second-most yards ever in a WNC game with 495 (within 12 of the record), in a wild 46-43 loss at Mountain Heritage. He tallied 464 in a 57-54 defeat at Owen. He surpassed 300 yards in six of 12 games, averaging 273.
Schmidt “can throw it all over the yard,” Madison Coach Mark Gosnell said. Heritage Coach Joey Robinson said “they can sure sling the ball. Schmidt is a special player.” Mitchell Coach Travis Pitman likes Schmidt’s “instincts. “He delivered the ball within two seconds. We couldn’t get to him. Because of him, I see ‘Hendo’ as one of the better teams around.”
Dual threat Mike Schmidt scores on a TD run. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Aspiring mechanical engineer Schmidt has superb mechanics “naturally, from throwing balls in other sports,” he explained. He is a line-drive hitting baseball right fielder, and basketball small forward.
He engineers prolific drives and scoring plays. He often hit multi-covered Cleary in stride, with zip and “uncanny accuracy,” Gash said. Schmidt had nearly a four-to-one ratio of 30 TDs to eight “picks.” He said “passing is calming. You control where you put the ball.” He is also calm “when it opens up to run,” scoring key TDs.
“He’s confident, cool, calm and collected under pressure” with a “calming voice,” Gash said. “But if we need extra oomph, he’ll do that. If a moment of levity is needed, he’ll interject a joke.” Schmidt equates a final drive to calmly executing, as if in practice. “I take it as a challenge to do our two-minute drill. I put all trust in our system” and offensive coordinator Jim Sosebee. “He gets me comfortable in the pocket, to trust my receivers to be in the right place at the right time,” Schmidt said. “I can’t think about getting hit blind side. I’m thinking about positives.”
Further, “let hard times motivate us. Our push in practice is cleaning up mistakes in those close games we lost. One more off drive we can punch it in, or one more defensive stop we can make.”
Gash calls Schmidt “brilliant” in tactics. He earns all A’s. His elder brother Bradley Schmidt was salutatorian this spring, and a football receiver. He majors in biomedical engineering, at N.C. State. Their sister Kaylee, a sophomore, is in HHS volleyball and track. “Math-minded, science”-oriented Mike eyes Navy, State, Wake Forest and Clemson. His father Scott Schmidt, an electrical engineer, also structures time well.
Mike’s mother Kim Schmidt teaches Family Consumer Science vocational classes in HHS. “She reminds me I’m privileged to step out onto the field,” Mike said. He was Key Club V.P. He coaches local Special Needs Baseball youth to “give back.”
Coach Gash, also a minister, is “awesome, with inspirational messages,” Schmidt said. “He stresses being a good young man, putting faith and family first, and playing for a greater good.” The team is about “Bearcat pride and family,” he said. “We play as brothers. We’re from a small school, in a tight-knit group. We have each other’s backs.”