Blake Schumacher earned his first start at defensive back in the 2016 NAIA national championship game. He was a true freshman with experience, but had yet to start a game.
“We had an injury and we were going into the big show and I said, 'OK, rookie step up,'” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said.
The Cougars beat Baker 38-17 to win their first of their back-to-back national championships.
“A little bit of jitters,” Schumacher said of how he felt. “At the time, I was really excited because my goal was to start some of my freshman year, so to finally get that and accomplish my goal was awesome. It was definitely nerve-wracking, especially against a team that passed all the time, almost every play.”
The senior out of Carroll is a three-year starter and captaining a defense that held St. Francis (Ill.) to six points in Saturday's season-opening 56-6 win.
“You always get asked, 'is the team going to be good, is the team going to be good,' but both our offense and defense is so good,” Schumacher said. “Until you really play that first play and play that first team, you never truly know. So it's always good to finally play a first team and see what you really got in the tank.”
Schumacher is one of three starters to return in a secondary that lost All-American Wilmer Cole. Senior Ryan Johnson and junior Jalen Moss also return.
Schumacher has high praise for fellow captain Johnson.
“RJ is a great, great corner, probably one of the best guys on the field and definitely the most athletic,” Schumacher said. “To see him do his work and know I never have to worry about his side because I know that guy is going to be covered.
Co-defensive coordinator Joey Didier said this position has a plethora of talent and that Schumacher is the quarterback of the defense.
“Blake is a phenomenal leader; Blake has been a great player for a while and people don't really realize how good he was earlier in his career because he had everybody in front him like (Eric) Dunten and (Piercen) Harnish and (Marcus) Stepp.”
Schumacher was an All-Mid-States Football Association first-team member in 2018. He had a fumble recovery in the season opener at St. Francis (Ill.).
“He's a competitor, he's intelligent and he's a team guy,” Donley said. “Not sure what he wants to do with his life, but boy, he's going to be successful. He just has it. He has the X-factor that makes him a special player. He just has a knack of being where the football is.”
Schumacher is part of a Cougars roster that includes 24 local players. He hopes other athletes from the area can see the program as a desirable spot to play.
“When I started to get recruited I didn't think I was going to come here, but it's obviously God's plan, and it's worked out great; I wouldn't change it for anything. I think we get a ton of great guys from all the local schools and for them to see such a successful program in town, we hope a lot of them will take that as an opportunity.”
As a captain, Schumacher knows there are bigger responsibilities for him, and he's excited for the challenge.
“Last year, there were great leaders that I could watch like Dunten and Harnish,” he said. “Just kind of getting to watch them, and all the before seniors and captions through all my years, and getting to learn the little things from each of them and making it my own this year.”