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Schofield back on track after injury-delayed NFL start

Posted: December 27, 2010 3:03 p.m.
Updated: December 29, 2010 5:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

A knee injury suffered during practice for the 2010 Senior Bowl left O'Brien Schofield wondering about his football-playing future. His father, Anthony Schofield, was a three-year letterwinner at Camden High, from 1983-85.

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CHARLOTTE – O’Brien Schofield heard all the rumors. But they did him no good as he was lying on the ground after having been injured during the first practice leading up to the 2010 Senior Bowl game in Mobile, Ala.

The injury to his left anterior cruciate ligament not only kept Schofield out of the game, but it dealt a severe blow to the NFL Draft hopes of the University of Wisconsin defensive end, who saw his stock soar after being moved to linebacker and earning the defensive most valuable player honors at the East-West Shrine Game, played the previous week. Many draft experts had Schofield closing in on the first round after the 6-foot-3, 248-pounder made the transition from defensive end to linebacker with ease.

But in a flash, the son of Camden natives and current Great Lakes, Ill., residents Anthony and Dawn (Carter) Schofield saw the momentum which had built during Badger career and then, in his first post-season all-star game come to a grinding halt. He admitted to being somewhat deflated by this blow. Still, it did not prevent him from playing his way onto the Arizona Cardinals’ roster some nine months later.

“I was actually on a spin move and my cleat got stuck in the ground. And, while I was spinning the (offensive lineman) was pushing me,” Schofield said, recalling that day. “All I remember about it is that it all seemed to happen in slow motion.”

After having worked so hard to position himself for a future in the NFL, even Schofield wondered what his future held. One thing which he did know and believed was that he was going to play football again, somewhere and at some time.

“I never thought that it was going to be career-ending, but I knew it was going to be a major setback to what I wanted to accomplish and after how hard I worked,” Schofield said in the Arizona Cardinals’ locker room following a 19-12 loss to the host Carolina Panthers on Dec. 19.

“I felt, at one point that I was going to be a first round pick. Then, the talk was that I wasn’t going to get drafted. That, kind of, had me down for a little bit. But my faith in God and staying close to my family, friends and fans, who encouraged me to keep working through the injury, really brought me peace.”

Schofield, a first-team All-Big Ten choice in 2009, following a season in which his 24.5 tackles for loss was second in the NCAA for the second and second all-time in Badgers’ history. The defensive end also led the team with 12 sacks, including a pair of Ohio State quarterback Terelle Pryor in October.

Thought by some to be more suited for linebacker at the next level, Schofield showed the scouts what he could do at that position in the East-west contest in earning MVP honors. A few days later, he was in a hospital, not feeling sorry for himself as much as he was planning his rehabilitation.

During his recovery, he leaned heavily on his uncle, former Camden High and Clemson standout André Carter, as well as his cousin and 14-year NFL veteran and former Camden and Penn State All-America receiver, Bobby Engram. In 2000, Engram sustained an ACL injury while playing for the Chicago Bears. Schofield is also related to former CHS standout and current Washington Redskins’ defensive lineman, Vonnie Holliday.

“I talk to Bobby a lot. Bobby and Andre have been like this (holding his fingers together) on me,” Schofield said. “I really had the chance to ask Bobby what to expect because he tore his ACL. I asked him how he got through that. And, Andre has been around for me since day one.”

When he returned to Madison, Schofield was asked the same question by both reporters and friends. He gave each and every one the same answer.

“I remember when I had my first interviews when I got back to Madison and everyone was asking, ‘Do you think you are going to play this year?’ I said, ‘Yes. I’m definitely going to come back this year,’” he said.

“I knew with my determination and with how hard that I was going to work that I would be able to come back. I just didn’t know how soon. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to start camp with the team, because I hadn’t even started to run by then.”

When physically able, Schofield shifted his address to Arizona, where he prepared himself for the NFL Draft combine. He was interviewed by several organizations, including the Cardinals. He did not hear from any franchise until his name was called in the fourth round as he was selected by the Cardinals with the 130th overall selection.

Torn ACL and all, Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt said after selecting Schofield that, “You can’t ignore production.”

“When I got drafted in the fourth round, that was one of the best things that has ever happened to me,” Schofield said of his reaction upon hearing his name called by the Cardinals.

With a team ready to take a chance on him, Schofield started accelerating his recovery. By late summer, he was given the green light to begin running. He has not slowed down since as he was added to the Cardinals’ 53-man active roster in time the team’s eighth game with Tampa Bay.

“When I was brought up to the 53 (man roster), I cried. It was a long journey … those nine months were tough,” he said.

Like many rookies, Schofield is getting his feet wet playing on special teams while seeing occasional time at linebacker. In his first eight games, he made nine solo stops. Against the Panthers, he had two solo stops, including dropping 235-pound Carolina tailback Jonathan Stewart for a loss, a hit on which Schofield lost his helmet, in the second half.

“Every time I go out there, I’m learning something new. The game is slowly starting to slow down for me, especially on defense,” he said before breaking into a laugh. “Now, special team is crazy. I don’t think you can ever slow that down. But on defense, I’m starting to understand my responsibilities, especially playing linebacker now. The more I get out there and the more reps I get in practice, the better off I’m going to be.”

A defensive end in college, Schofield said the learning curve has not been too great for him in the NFL. But, he quickly points out, he still has a way to go to get where he wants his professional career to take him.

“I’ve always had a pretty high football IQ, so I don’t think it’s that much harder,” he said of the move to the NFL. “It’s just more cover stuff up here. I didn’t really drop in coverage a lot (at Wisconsin) so, that has been different; seeing the routes and the different formations. But when it comes to stopping the run and pass rushing, it’s just like playing defensive end.”

For now, Schofield is undergoing what can best be described as on the job training, backing up right outside linebacker Joey Porter and learning from him and left outside backer Clark Haggans. He said he is trying to soak up as much knowledge as he can from the two seasoned veterans

“I have a lot to learn and I’m trying to take in everything I can from those guys before they decide to retire, or whatever, so that when it’s my turn out there, I’ll be the man,” he said.

Judging by the early returns, O’Brien Schofield is well on his way to filling that role.

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