Just a few weeks ago, back on the eve of Winnipeg Blue Bombers rookie camp, Karl Schmitz was spotted wandering the halls of the club’s offices on Chancellor Matheson Road shaking hands and introducing himself to everyone and anyone.
Oh, and he did so while sporting a smile as wide as Lake Winnipeg.
Fast forward to the present – a couple of days before the final preseason game this Friday against the Saskatchewan Roughriders at IG Field – and the 36-year-old punter from Bermuda still has that kid-at-the-chocolate-factory glint in his eye.
“I’m soaking it up,” began Schmitz after another training camp session on Wednesday. “I made a commitment to myself to just take this day by day and appreciate all the moments because I’ve been in this position before when I was in the NFL, and you just never know. So, when I’m out here feeling healthy, I just want to be with my teammates, get every rep that you can and when the game rolls around… as soon as the national anthem hits it’s an experience you can’t really prepare for.
“I’m not going to let this opportunity slip again. I’m going to make sure I put myself in position to get a starting job here.”
The Blue Bombers second pick in the 2023 CFL Global Draft – right after the team selected Australian punter Jamieson Sheahan in the first round – Schmitz was one of the more fascinating stories heading into camp and remains so all these days later.
The two men split the punting chores in Saturday’s 25-23 preseason win over the Edmonton Elks and finished with near-identical numbers – Sheahan with a 48.3-yard average and 41.0 net average; Schmitz with a 49.5-yard average and 38.7 net.
All the Global players have intriguing stories as to how they landed opportunities in the Canadian Football League and Schmitz is certainly no exception. Born and raised in Bermuda, his family moved to St. Louis when he was 18, but he played just one-half season of high school ball after being in a car accident before his senior season. He played one season at Jacksonville State, then worked as a bartender at his father’s restaurant with the tips he earned helping him fund his trips to combines and kicking camps.
He got his first NFL look from the Denver Broncos at age 28 back in 2015 and had looks from the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Get this: his last game action before the preseason game in Edmonton came while with the Bucs on a Monday Night Football preseason game on August 24th, 2015.
Over the years he kept at it and kept showing up at kicking camps – and it was former Blue Bombers punter Jon Ryan who told him of the Global Draft and that potential pathway to the CFL. Along the way a funny thing happened: his skills got better, even as the number of candles on his birthday cake grew.
“If I could draw a comparison, it’s like a pitcher in baseball – the better you know your body, this is just a skill at the end of the day,” said Schmitz. “Being an overall good athlete helps, but we’re swinging our leg. We just have to stay limber. It really doesn’t have anything to do with strength or size or speed – it’s doing a repetitive motion over and over again. The better you know your body, the better you can with age. That’s what I’ve seen happen to me over the last four or five years of training.”
“He can pound the ball,” added O’Shea when asked about Schmitz on Wednesday. “It just comes off his foot so well. He is obviously in impeccable shape. He takes care of his body and practises his craft. It’s pretty neat.
“I don’t put a lot of stock into age, especially at that position, because we’ve all witnessed Lui Passaglia, Bob Cameron and Troy (Westwood) and Trevor (Kennerd) all these guys kicked for a long time.”
No matter how this turns out for Schmitz – whether he survives past the weekend roster trim or not – he’s certainly enjoyed every moment. And he’s not complicating things either, describing his gig as ‘see ball, catch ball, kick ball.’
“It’s really out of my hands,” he added, “so as long as I just do my job and let the rest play out as it does then I’m happy with the result.”
One more note on Schmitz that reinforces his unique road travelled: featured on his left arm are tattoos of a Bermuda long bird, a lighthouse, the longitudinal coordinates for the island and the Bermuda triangle.
“I couldn’t stop at just one,” he said with a grin. “I’m proud of where I’ve come from.”