Anatomy of an Era: Damon Schmadeke, Part 1
Excerpted from Chapter 40, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 1 by Paul Koch
Stricken while at work in a house at Springfield, Nebr., Harry Arms, 54, said to have been Nebraska’s only one-armed paperhanger, died Tuesday. He lost his arm in a shooting accident when a youth. He had followed the paperhanging trade for more than ten years.
-Newspaper Obituary, Gretna Breeze, May 27, 1938, courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society
For a long spell there was a sizeable, engaging, and downright agreeable fellow by the name of Don Daugherty who patrolled the hallways and entrance gate to the Bob Devaney Sports Center. On an almost daily basis we’d greet each other in this manner:
Paul: “Good mornin’ Don! How’s life treatin’ ya’?”
Don: “I’m busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kickin’ contest!
Then on we’d go about our ways.
Having already spoken to Darren, one of the “Schmadeke boys,” now we come to Damon, who could very easily empathize with both Mr. Dougherty and the late Mr. Arms above. Damon had a busier five years than most and saw life from both sides of the fence, having a great appreciation for the process no matter which side of the ball he was on. Keep an ear out for his unique insight as to what made the whole Big Red juggernaut go…
Notable quote #1:
“I think it comes down to those film guys: Bryan Carpenter and Brian ‘Moose’ Mohnsen did a lot of stuff and never did get much credit… If we didn’t have that we weren’t gonna be ready in preparing for the team. What they would do is break it down and slice and dice that tape.”
Walk-on, I-Back, Albion, Nebraska
Where are they now? Rolla, Missouri, Sales
Question: You had a unique experience playing and coaching at Nebraska, right Damon?
Damon Schmadeke: I played for three years and then I was an undergrad assistant coach in those ’94 and ’95 seasons. It was fun to see both sides of the ball, I tell you that.
Q: Obviously you already knew someone there, your twin brother, but was there anyone else?
DS: We’d competed a lot in track so we kind of knew some guys. And the Makovickas? I didn’t know them until I was there, we were both walk-ons. And Chad Stanley, I got along with Chad very well. I guess you kind of hung out with, more so, the running backs, the fullbacks, what I was doing. You’re in meetings, in practice, sometimes in the same classes and all that, study hall, that first year. But it was sure an interesting year, how busy we were from freshman study hall to football to weightlifting, it was just, ‘Where do we go now?’
Q: Not, “Where do I want to go?”, but “Where do I have to go?” (laughs)
DS: Yeah, you’d get back to your dorm at 9:30 or ten at night and you’d just be exhausted. Then back at the grind again. I guess when you’re at that age with all of the energy, that’s what you can do. It was a great experience.
Q: Do you recall your initial thoughts of the organization, the program?
DS: It was hard for me to believe I was here and actually going through fall camp for real. It was real-time: guys were bigger, stronger, faster than you thought, coming out of high school. That tends to be an eye-opener for most people. Going through all the testing skills: the 40 yard dash, the 300 yard shuttle was always a killer. (laughs) Just the experience of saying, ‘I’ve got myself here. I have some work to do. They mean business.’ When it comes down to it, with football and school and the structure, the honor of being in the presence of Tom Osborne was sure a great thrill.
Q: Anything stand out to you about Coach Osborne from the start?
DS: He was thorough. He knew you by name the first day you were there and he would call you by name. And the amount of players that were under him, with the walk-ons and the scholarship players? I just thought it was very neat that he could remember everybody’s name pretty much; he’d acknowledge you as he walked by you, and that would assure you that you weren’t just a number.
When you started off you’d have tape on the front of your helmet with your name on it (until he can kind of get to know you), especially being new people. That’s a challenge, but once you sit on the coaching side like I did, you just know every player on that team. You know the depth chart and who was moving up and who was slipping back at every position. So I could see over time, throughout the year, how he would get to know every person. You’d look up at the whiteboard and see the running back depth and the quarterback depth and move people around based on position and first team, second team, third team.
Q: Do you recall times that you moved up or moved down and what that did for your psyche?
DS: Well, I started out at I-back, you know, and to me just being there was a thrill. I just knew I needed to do my best and focus on working hard at practice each day and studying hard. But I guess it didn’t really bother me that I wasn’t a starter. I was 4th string my freshman and sophomore year and I sure would have liked to move up, but the talent level there was very high. You just had to do the best you could.
Q: Can you bring up any names of the guys you were competing against?
DS: I competed with Jeff Makovicka at that position, then Jeff got switched to fullback, and Chad Stanley was always a fullback, Clinton Childs, Damon Benning. Damon was a year younger than me. With those guys -all those guys- it pushed everybody each day to do better and better and better with that type of talent.
Q: What about Frank Solich?
DS: What I liked about Coach Solich was that when we went through the plays and if you didn’t run it to the exact place where he wanted you -either outside shoulder of the tackle or the inside shoulder- he was very precise on his routes and the techniques, of running downhill and catching that option. Fine-tuning that option? He was a master at that. When you’d get that ball you wanted to be going downhill when you crossed that line of scrimmage. He was a very good coach and I enjoyed playing for him and working with him as a coach.
I always remember Coach Solich saying that when you ran the ball you had to “speed through the hole.” He wanted us to accelerate through the line of scrimmage on each play, but he was very precise on where he wanted the route to be on the play call. But “speed through the hole’ was something he really repeated all the time. I sure learned a lot of things, a lot of techniques, compared to what I knew at the high school level. At the high school level you just run over people, but at the college level you had to put your shoulder down, make them move, run over them, drive through their chest and not take the brunt of hits that you did in high school. You wanted to deliver the punishment and not take the punishment, let’s put it that way.
Q: I heard somewhere that Tom Rathman once broke an Oklahoma guy’s jaw?
DS: Yeah, I heard about that. That’s one of the things Coach Solich wanted to infuse in us running backs: “You guys do the punishment to the people. Don’t take it. Take your fist and drive through their sternum. Then pop your fist through and drive through them.” Cory Schlesinger, too, he was good at that. Everybody called him “Blockhead.” He would hit you so hard and it wouldn’t faze him. I would be, ‘Wow, that was a hit! Are you okay?’ And he’d be, “Oh, I’m fine.” (laughs) Cory could sure hit hard. Very tough player. A tough kid.
Q: What brought you to coaching with Coach Solich?
DS: Well, when we were recruited Coach Turner Gill asked us to walk on back there in high school, both Darren and myself. Coach Osborne told us if we came here and something would happen -if we got hurt, like blow a knee or a back or whatever- that they would take care of us on a medical hardship. Well, I had a stress fracture in my L5 vertebra and Dr. Pat Clare said, “You better just take a rest, because you don’t want to mess your back up anymore.” So I had a discussion with Coach Osborne and he wanted me to come on and be an undergrad assistant coach for the last two years of my 5 years there at Nebraska. It was an honor to do that.
Q: Did that come out of the blue for you?
DS: I wasn’t really expecting it. And I was hoping my injury would get better but obviously it didn’t, and there was nothing really that they could do. They were shooting my back up with Cortisone, the sacro-iliac joint, and I was getting stim and ultrasound on my back in the training room, and it just came to a point where my body just locked up in the lower back and said, “You can’t be doing this.” My back just needed a break, so I figured I didn’t want to mess myself up for the rest of my life, so ‘I’ll stop.’
Q: How‘s the back now?
DS: Fine. (laughs) Fine, no knee problems, no nothing. I got through football with no long term injuries. That’s a good thing. (laughs)
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Q: Other coaches stand out to you?
DS: Dan Young, he was the kicker’s coach, from Primrose, Nebraska (and we’re from Albion). We sure got a kick out of him and the dry sense of humor that he had. A lot of people would like to imitate a lot of things he would say. Steve Ott was really good at doing impressions of him. He was a great guy.
Then Charlie McBride, he would get in your face if you did something wrong, he had such a good command of the defense. Each week running plays into them? He’d be intimidating, because if you didn’t run the right play he would tell you. (laughs) A lot of people respected him and he got the defense ready for game days.
Q: Do you recall the first game you played?
DS: I’m trying to think. I don’t remember the exact first game I got in, but I remember the game I ran the ball was against Oklahoma State in Lincoln. I got a pitch and nothing big, maybe a five or six yard gain after getting the pitch, and got tackled out of bounds. But for me that was a thrill to run the ball. I didn’t get in a ton when I was a freshman and sophomore, but I’d get in on kickoffs and stuff when we were blowing them out. I also got to go to the Tokyo Coca-Cola Bowl because Derek Brown got injured down in Norman, Oklahoma. I didn’t travel because I was fourth string. It was Derek Brown, Calvin Jones and Jeff Makovicka, then myself. Then I’m sitting at home watching the game and I saw Derek got injured and I said, ‘Uh oh, I guess I’d better get my passport ready,’ because Derek was out with a shoulder injury and I got to go to Tokyo, Japan and play Kansas State over there.
Q: Any memories of that game?
DS: Well, I think the whole memory of that thing was the travel over there and how long it was: a 14-hour flight and all the guys playing cards. And sitting on that plane? They put the small guys between the offensive linemen -I had to sit between Brenden Stai and Zach Wiegert- like a sandwich meat between those two guys on one of the Japan Airlines 747’s. (laughs) We flew from Kansas City to Vancouver, British Columbia, and then from Vancouver to Tokyo.
Q: I have a feeling you didn’t get to use the arm rests…
DS: No, I would get up and walk around. That was the longest flight I’d ever been on. You were going stir crazy after that long.
Q: I heard there was a memorable off-field incident that trip. Remember anything about that?
DS: Yeah, I don’t know the specifics, but it was something like John Parrella, Kevin Ramaekers or somebody. Somebody got into a fight with a professional WWF wrestler in a bar, and they had to wear sunglasses on to the plane home so Coach Osborne wouldn’t see the black eye. I can’t remember exactly who that was, but maybe it was an offensive lineman? I can’t recall who it was. (laughs) They wore sunglasses on the plane.
I remember going out in Tokyo and not being a part of that, but being around and heard that went on. I don’t know what happened, but the bars there, you had to go upstairs to get a drink. Everything was vertical in that town. You ordered McDonalds on the first floor but you had to go upstairs to eat it. It was a great trip and great experience; we got to do a little bit of sightseeing and stuff. We were over there for 6, 7 or 8 days in December of ’92. It was a long flight to go play at the equivalent of Manhattan, Kansas, I tell you that.(laughs) We won that game and I got in in the 4th quarter there, where Tony Veland was the quarterback and I got in a couple of plays there towards the end. It was fun to get in that game.
And it was funny, when you walked into the stadium there were either red pompoms or purple pompoms sitting in the seats, so that’s the team they were supposed to cheer for. So wherever people sat, that’s the team they cheered for. They were going, “Rah-rah, who’s Nebraska? Rah-rah, who’s K-State?” (laughs) But they were great.
Q: That would have been a long flight back had it been a loss…
DS: Yeah, K-State had to be on the right side of the plane and Nebraska had to be on the left side of the plane. They had us on the same plane, split us on the left side and right side of the plane. I know in the back they were all rolling dice. I didn’t get into that. (laughs)
Q: Rigggght, Damon. It’s okay to fess up now, I don’t think they’ll drag you in front of the Unity Council for gambling… (laughs) So then you made the switch over to the coaching side of things. What sticks out from that?
DS: I think the first meeting that I sat in… sitting in the meeting room with all the coaches, we would discuss the players. And it would blow me away each Monday with how much the coaches knew about what the players did that past weekend. They were like, “Did you hear about this guy…?” I was like, ‘How do they know this stuff?’ If you sneezed, they knew. (laughs) They know more than you think they know: if you’re in trouble with school or skipping class or failing a class. They were very involved in that, which I think was very good, because Coach Osborne would talk to the players and maybe straighten them out a bit and get ’em back on track to where they needed to be, if they’re slipping up or messing around.
Q: One thing you never heard was the term, “Lack of institutional control,” huh?
DS: Yeah, it was really interesting to sit in there and hear what they would know about you and how much they knew about you: off-field and on-field issues, girl issues, classes, I think that was just the way Coach Osborne was. He was always looking out for your best interests and making you a man.
Q: Sure, he made a promise to the mothers and fathers during recruiting…
DS: He really did, and he tried to do that with everybody the best he could. He did a great job. That was the first thing that surprised me when I sat in some of those meetings. That, and we watched a lot of film.
Q: Share a ‘fly on the wall’ moment from those sessions…
DS: Let me think. Well, Coach Darlington would always pipe up and say a few things. He’d speak his mind and go on a few times sometimes. And some of the other coaches wouldn’t always agree, but he’d always put his two cents in.
I think Coach Osborne kind of ran the meetings, and a lot of people bounced their ideas off him or what. But whatever Coach Osborne decided, that’s what we did. They all did their work together as a cohesive group and brainstormed. And the amount of film we watched? I’d be there for 10 hours on Sunday breaking down film for Monday’s practice.
Q: Was that after Moose and Carp had already broken it down?
DS: Well, yeah. They’d be breaking it down late Saturday and even early into Sunday morning. Then we’d be watching tapes (and they had all of us undergrad assistants), I’d be drawing the play card, the routes, draw the formations on the right and turn it over and draw it on the left, with colors for pass play or run play. And we’d draw these cards based on down and distance: 20 yards and under, third and long, and he would have every play broken down into what formation they would run, and we’d run each one of the plays to the defense based on them.
And then we’d have the numbers of the star players of the opponents like Oklahoma State or Colorado, we’d have that player on the field wearing that jersey so they could see where that player was going to be. We ran the offense -teams three and four- against the one and two defense; that was our job to coordinate the three and four offense to run that week’s plays against the one and two defense. That’s what we did.
It sure was a lot of work, just amazing that you can watch that much film and you can almost call the play when seeing some formation. And that’s how Coach Osborne would see some formation and maybe make some adjustments to Charlie, and then Charlie would see that and make some adjustments, and then we’d make some interception and surprise these guys.
Q: Do you ever recall saying to yourself, “Wow, these opponents are good!” or the like?
DS: When I sat up versus KU. We were down at Lawrence, Kansas and Mike Grant and myself were sitting in the end zone. We would chart the defensive front of the Kansas Jayhawks versus Nebraska’s offense. We’d chart the defensive front and if there was any slants or blitzes based on our offensive fronts. So then after each series we’d have a runner run those down to Coach Osborne so he could see the formations from the way we saw it in the end zone, from the goal posts where we were sitting. So sitting at that angle you could see the defense and then you could see our offense go into a formation, and you could almost call a touchdown before it happened by seeing it from that angle. You could see by the way they lined up, ‘Oh boy, this guy is gonna be wide open.’ And it was, with that option pass and the tight end streaking down the line and no one covering him.
Q: Like those times when a Mark Gilman just standing in the end zone, wide open?
DS: Yeah, you could see a big play before it happened, based on that.
Q: So you’re just kind of giddy sitting there, just waiting for it to go down? Knowing that you and maybe thirty other people knew what’s gonna transpire there in the next few seconds among the 78,000-plus people who have no clue about what’s going to take place?
DS: Yeah, because we’d have the headphones on, too. Sometimes we’d be upstairs or in the north end zone for home games and we’d have the headphones on, so I could hear the play being called, and then I’d watch us line up and then the other team’s defense would line up and I’d go, ‘Oh, this is going to work.’
And then you’d hear the coaches go back and forth, too, making these comments. And you could see that they could see the same thing that we could see, because you have the guys up top talking to the guys down there. You would hear, “That guy’s cheating up over here, he’s biting, he’s biting. Let’s go to this, we’re gonna get him and then trip him up and… TOUCHDOWN!” I think that was neat seeing some of that stuff fall into place, and you knew you were one of the few people in the stadium who could see that.
To be continued….
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