HAMPTON — For Jeremiah Schwartz, it was belief more than assurance that he would play a vital role for
Bruising, 230-pound running backs aren't necessarily hand-in-glove with the Pirates' new Air Raid offensive scheme. But Schwartz worked diligently last spring and summer to learn the system, to be a valued teammate and believed that he could contribute if given the chance in his final college go-'round.
"It being my senior year, I wanted to be that guy that the team could depend on," Schwartz said. "I wanted to sacrifice and do everything I could. I didn't want to have any regrets when I left."
Schwartz has emerged as a consistent offensive bright spot in an otherwise frustrating season, as the Pirates (1-5, 1-3
Schwartz has rushed for 606 yards, which places him second in the MEAC (101 ypg) behind
"I know he's going to have a great game," HU head coach Donovan Rose said, "because I see how he practices."
Schwartz has taken it upon himself to be an example in an offense dotted with youth and inexperience, and still finding its footing.
"Everybody's still upbeat," Schwartz said. "We know we're a better team than our record shows. Youth can be a benefit sometimes and a burden other times. It's hurt us some and as a senior — the few seniors that we do have — it's up to us to guide the young guys and show them how to prepare and what's expected."
Schwartz took the long road to Hampton University and, to hear him tell it, his mature approach. He was an all-state running back from Orlando, Fla., who originally chose Iowa State over Kentucky, Colorado and Virginia.
Limited playing time under new coach Paul Rhoads and homesickness led him to transfer after his redshirt freshman season. Coincidentally, his cousin, Rafael Vazquez chose to leave Tulane at the same time. The two wanted to play together, and Hampton was interested in and had scholarships available for both.
"I was so far away from home, I never saw my family," Schwartz said. "I was young and dumb, too. Just being impatient. I didn't understand waiting your turn. I was playing limited reps in games after playing all the time in high school."
Schwartz also was attracted by Hampton's track record of having players make NFL training camps and rosters.
But when he arrived at Hampton, the Pirates' offense was a go-go, up-tempo scheme that featured smaller, quicker backs. To get on the field, he even played linebacker for a time.
In a reserve role last season, he totaled 162 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games.
"As a sophomore and junior, he didn't play as much as he could have," Rose said. "I know it was frustrating for him. At that point, he could have said, Hey man, I'm done with this. But he didn't. He came in and worked hard in the spring and did everything he could to get himself ready."
Schwartz gained 59 yards in the first two games as the Pirates relied heavily on the pass. He recorded his first 100-yard game at Florida A&M, then followed that with a career-best 201 yards on 25 carries in a loss to
Rose believed that HU's reliance on the pass early helped create running lanes for Schwartz. Now that Schwartz has demonstrated his productivity, he hopes that defenses will play the Pirates honestly, which in theory opens passing lanes for the young quarterbacks and receivers.
Schwartz aims to play professional football, and Rose thinks he has a chance because of his bulk, strength and toughness. But Schwartz doesn't think that far ahead, with a month remaining and a chance to salvage the season.
He hasn't had the college career he envisioned, but believes that he's better for the experience.
"As my practices start to come to a close," he said, "I've really started to appreciate everything that goes into the process. When I think about it sometimes, it's almost shocking that it's coming to a close.