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By DARREN MILLER
TAMPA, Fla. — The play was called, the ball snapped, and the University of Iowa right guard turned directly into his own tackle. The running back went the opposite direction.
“I have a lot to learn,” redshirt sophomore Austin Schulte said. “I went the wrong way.”
It’s the early stages of Schulte’s tenure as an offensive lineman; learning the ropes will take time for the 6-foot-4, 275 pounder from Pella, Iowa. It is understandable since he has spent essentially his entire three seasons at defensive tackle. In high school he played linebacker, quarterback, and tight end.
“It will help me because I have a good understanding of both the offense and defense,” Schulte said. “It helps me play well, no matter what position I am at.”
The idea of switching Schulte to offensive guard is a result of the prowess he showed on defense. Head coach Kirk Ferentz approached Schulte after a strength and conditioning workout in the days following Iowa’s 31-28 victory over Nebraska in the Hy-Vee Heroes Game.
“We like what you have been doing on defense, would you consider switching to offense?” Schulte recalls Ferentz asking. “I was like, whatever I can do to help the team.”
The response didn’t surprise Ferentz. At Iowa’s annual banquet Dec. 9, Schulte joined Colton Dinsdale, Monte Pottebaum, Terry Roberts, Ryan Schmidt, and Mike Timm as recipients of the Team Leader Award.
Schulte was recognized for his play as scout team defensive tackle. The honors engineering student embraced that role, frequently taping his helmet to resemble the upcoming opponent’s logo.
“For me it was a win-win,” Schulte said. “You’re going against the best offensive linemen you can, so you’re not supposed to do well. When you do well, it feels good because you’re going against the best.”
It has been a tough road physically for Schulte, who tore an ACL in the first football game of his senior season at Pella High School. Once cleared to practice basketball, he re-tore the same one.
“A lot of guys do a lot of great things, but when they come off injuries, especially a double injury like that, it is difficult and challenging,” Ferentz said. “I know he had to be a little demoralized because he couldn’t defend himself the way he would have if he had been perfectly healthy.”
Being on the scout team isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s hard, Schulte says, and the players in that position have two paths they can walk.
“Some guys see it as a chance to go through the motions and wait for their time to play in games,” Schulte said. “Or you can see it as an opportunity to get better and work on your craft. Even though you’re playing someone else’s defense, you’re still working on fundamentals. That’s the mindset I took. I embraced my role and did the best I could.”
Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan describes Schulte as a tireless worker and a team-first, selfless player.
“He’s tremendous,” Morgan said. “Austin is always one of the first to practice every day.”
When Schulte switched sides of the ball, he met with offensive line coach Tim Polasek. They studied basic running plays and drills they would implement in practice. At this point, he is not polished by any means, but day-by-day Schulte gains ground during the valuable developmental time leading up to the Outback Bowl against No. 18 Mississippi State on Jan. 1.
“Coach Ferentz wouldn’t put me in a situation where I couldn’t succeed,” Schulte said. “I see this as a great opportunity.”
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