SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- USC's last-ditch effort in its 14-10 loss to Notre Dame Saturday was thwarted, in part, by a former walk-on.
With inside linebacker Jarrett Grace lost for the season with a broken leg, Joe Schmidt -- who earned a scholarship earlier this year after two seasons as a walk-on -- was thrust into action Saturday against USC. He mainly filled Grace's role as the lone linebacker in Notre Dame's dime package, and his presence paid off when he broke up a Cody Kessler pass intended for Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick late in the fourth quarter.
The play forced a fourth and eight from Notre Dame's 41, which USC failed to convert to seal its loss.
"Completely and totally surreal," Schmidt said of the play. "It's honestly a dream come true. Since I was a little kid I've been dreaming about playing Notre Dame football, playing against USC."
Schmidt, a native of Santa Ana, Calif. and an alum of Southern California prep power house Mater Dei, said he always wanted to play for Notre Dame even if a scholarship offer wasn't there (Irish Illustrated reported in 2011 he was "leaning toward" walking on at USC before he visited Notre Dame.
He could've accepted a scholarship to play at the FBS level, with Air Force and Cincinnati extending offers. But he decided to take the more difficult route, and it hasn't just paid off with a scholarship from Notre Dame -- it's paid off with playing time, too.
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"A great example of coming in, losing our middle linebacker in Jarrett Grace, a guy stepping up," coach Brian Kelly evaluated.
For Schmidt, the payoff in coming to Notre Dame isn't all about playing time, though it certainly adds to it. For someone who was willing to travel across the country for a walk-on gig, contributing to the team is all that matters, be it on the scout team in practice or making a key play in a win over Notre Dame's biggest rival.
"I just want to do whatever it takes to help the team," Schmidt said. "I care deeply about Notre Dame football and these guys on the team are my family. It means the world to me to help us win football games, and any way I can do that is what I want to do."