Senior walk-on linebacker earns scholarship

Determination finally pays off for Schuster 

BROOKINGS – The logical place to chat with Patrick Schuster is in  the linebackers room in the Dykhouse Student-Athlete Center.

For one, the laid-back senior from Watertown spends two to three hours a day there watching film and preparing for games.

And an added bonus is that it’s empty right now – and quiet. Because any surrounding noise would make it all but impossible to hear Schuster.

He’s that quiet when he speaks.

“I try to get him to be more vocal, but that’s just how he is,” said South Dakota State University Linebackers Coach Jimmy Rogers.

But what Schuster lacks in volume, he more than makes up for with loyalty, dedication and grit, as his coaches and teammates will tell you.

He turned down a scholarship to Augustana and opted to walk on at SDSU to fulfill his dream of playing Division I football. He earned his first partial scholarship in this, his final season in the program, but he long ago earned the admiration of his teammates.

“He’s really sharp and conscientious and he doesn’t just run around and have fun,” said Head Coach John Stiegelmeier. “He knows what he’s doing on the football field and he does it well.”

Schuster has spent more time in the film room than he’d like during the past two seasons thanks to surgeries on a torn labrum in his right shoulder. It’s kept him out of winter workouts and spring practice, typically a time spent getting stronger and faster.

But the weak-side linebacker doesn’t use it as an excuse. In fact, it’s helped him improve to the point that he’s been asked to play a second position this season, middle linebacker.

“I don’t think it necessarily hurt me – maybe physically it did. But mentally it helped a lot,” Schuster said of his injuries. “I was able to sit back and watch and understand why we do what we do. I think that’s what has helped me play two positions.”

That should allow the career backup, who also plays special teams, more opportunities on the field. In the season opener at Kansas, Schuster responded, recording a career-high five tackles as the Jackrabbits defeated the Big 12 Conference’s Jayhawks.

It was typical Schuster. Keep working. Persevere. Contribute.

Rogers appreciated the effort Schuster has put in during his career. Despite his ailments, he’s never missed a game. 

“He toughs it out until the end of the year, then he gets it fixed when he can,” Rogers said. “In his time here maybe 14 or 15 linebackers have quit, just guys that couldn’t handle it. I’m proud of him for that.”

Majoring in advertising, Schuster’s work in the classroom also stands out. He’s a four-time member of Missouri Valley Football Conference Honor Roll and three-time recipient of the MVFC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award.

Imagine walking on at a Division I program after starring in high school as a talented, dual-threat quarterback. Then imagine being asked to play a position you’ve never played before – on the other side of the ball. That was Schuster’s challenge when he arrived at SDSU. Add to it the shoulder rehab and the lack of playing time, and some might wonder how and why Schuster continued playing at all.

But his hard work paid off when he was offered the scholarship to play this season. He sees it as a way to pay back his parents for their support.

“It’s a way of saying thank you,” Schuster says. “It was definitely a happy day when I told them that.”

Linebackers are generally regarded as some of the best athletes on the field, with both power and speed essential in stopping the run and the pass. It also doesn’t hurt to be fiery and vocal when calling out plays or directing traffic.

But that last ingredient doesn’t exactly fit Schuster.

“He’s supposed to make calls and take charge,” Stiegelmeier said with a chuckle. “His coaches say to him ‘don’t use your California voice.’”

Rogers agreed. 

“I always tell him to get off his surfboard and have some urgency,” Rogers said, with a nod to Schuster’s long, blond hair. “I try to get him to be more vocal, but he’s just like ‘all right, I gotcha, man.’”

As a teammate, Schuster’s influence also has been felt off the field. For an example, one needs to look no further than his and his family’s efforts to literally bring the team closer together.

Over the summer and during long holiday weekends, some of the players travel to Watertown and stay with Schuster’s family at their home on Lake Kampeska.

“Honestly, he’s a kid that has changed the lives of his teammates and been there for his teammates through some really tough times,” Rogers said.

It started with two teammates, Je Ryan Butler from Arizona and Brandon Andrews from California and grew from there to a variety of teammates – even the freshmen at times. It’s just easier for the guys who face long trips home to sometimes stay instead for a few days in nearby Watertown.

“That first semester of college those guys would come back with me on breaks and weekends and eventually they just became part of the family,” Schuster said. “And the family has grown. I owe it all to my mom. She likes to treat everyone like kings when they come over. It’s been great. They know all my aunts, my grandmas. It’s really cool. That’s why I’m so blessed to be in a place like this where I made all these friends.”

Another member of the “family” is T.J. Lally, a  senior middle linebacker and Schuster’s roommate. Over the years, Lally has sometimes preferred the 50-mile trip to Watertown over the 600-mile trek to his hometown, Chicago. 

“They couldn’t be any nicer,” Lally said of the Schuster family. “They make great food for us, take us out on the lake. They have a big spot in their hearts for us and it means a lot. They’ve done so much for us.”

Lally recalled meeting Schuster when they were freshmen. He assumed that Schuster was from California because of his long, blond hair and laid-back attitude.

“It took me like a week and half to figure out he wasn’t from California,” Lally said.

But it wouldn’t take long for them to build a bond as they adjusted to playing linebacker in college. They often asked each other for help, so the difference in playing time never became a wedge in their friendship.

“For me he’s just always been a great friend,” Lally said. “… He’s just someone you can always talk to about anything. He’s not gonna judge you. He’ll give you good advice.”

Patrick’s mother, Christina, moved the two of them to Watertown while he was in first grade. They lived across the street from his great-grandmother, Pauline. Before school every morning from first through sixth grade, he’d walk to her house because his mother had to teach at the high school. The frequent visits drew him close to his great-grandma. 

Years later, when Pauline moved to an assisted-living facility, Schuster visited her often, setting aside Wednesdays to eat dinner with her throughout high school until she passed away in December of his senior year in high school.

“She was just the sweetest lady,” he said. “We would watch MTV in the morning, and she’d be dancing to Usher, Gym Class Heroes and John Legend. Songs you’d never imagine an 80- or 90-year-old woman would like. And she loved the Timberwolves, and all Minnesota sports.”

The night his great-grandmother died, Schuster missed a phone call from former SDSU offensive coordinator and recruiter Luke Meadows, who wanted him to visit campus in Brookings. 

At that point, Schuster was debating between Augustana, where his mother and father attended, and NDSU. He ended up making that visit to Brookings and the experience sealed his decision.

Now, as his college experience nears an end, Schuster is thinking about the future.

He loves music and enjoys editing teammate and friend Ezekiel “Zeke” Herndon’s hip hop music in his spare time. He wants to learn how to play piano and read music, which could be beneficial for his plans after school. 

He’s looking for something in the entertainment industry and would like to work with a creative team to come up with different ways to present movies or musicians. 

“When I came on my visit (to SDSU) it felt like home, something I wanted to be a part of,” Schuster said. “I’m glad I did it.”