Dr. Kenneth Youngman isn’t an NFL talent evaluator, but the biological sciences professor at San Jose State University can spot a brilliant mind from kilometers away.
When Youngman observed the progress of 6-foot-5, 314-pound Wes Schweitzer in his immunology class, he made one simple conclusion about the Atlanta Falcons’ sixth-round draft pick.
"If I were drafting for a biology graduate student team, I would pick Wes in the first round,’’ Youngman said. "I think the Falcons got a real bargain drafting him in the sixth.
"This young man did not go looking for an easy class to take during the summer. He chose one of the most demanding classes offered at San Jose State, requiring three hours a week of class time and a minimum of nine hours a week study time on top of summer football practice and a part-time job. He never missed a class and earned an A.’’
The part-time job Youngman made reference to was Schweitzer's working for a moving company. Schweitzer, however, did plenty of heavy lifting in the classroom while majoring in chemistry. He concluded finals in his three classes -- the third biochemistry lecture on metabolism, the biochemistry lab on cloning, and genetics -- two weeks ago. He missed walking at graduation last Saturday because he needed to return to Atlanta for organized team activities.
Although football is Schweitzer's top priority now, his long-term goal is to earn his Ph.D. in chemistry. He maintained a 3.3 grade point average at San Jose State.
"I want to do research in the field somewhere,’’ he said. "I just want to contribute something to society. I want to be known as a guy who gave back or made a contribution to football or chemistry.’’
Schweitzer’s evolution started long ago. His grandfather, James Schweitzer, was a nuclear safety officer in the Army for 25 years.
"He started me down the path,’’ Schweitzer said. "But in high school, I was taking chemistry and I was like, 'Man, I just really love this.’ It really explains everything. If you ever wonder how anything works, why you feel this way, or why this happens, it’s all about chemistry. I’d rather be doing that than communications all day.’’
How serious was Schweitzer about his classroom work? He was part of a research lab the last three and a half years studying atmospheric chemistry. His solo project involved working with a mass spectrometer, which transferred chemicals through a machine and ionized them to reveal their weight.
"I was doing football and that,’’ Schweitzer said. "In the spring, when I had more time, I would focus on my lab work and working out. The coaches were really flexible. I knew the playbook. The last three springs, I missed three-quarters of the practices. But in the fall, it was pure football. In the fall, I wouldn't take a heavy load at all. I should have graduated in three years, but it took me five."
Despite his sharp mind, getting through college was far from an effortless journey.
"I’m not good at physics,'' Schweitzer admitted. "The very first year, there were three exams, and that was the whole class. And there were three questions per exam. If you missed one question, you pretty much got a C. So, yeah, I wasn’t very good at physics. I got, like, a C-plus."
Schweitzer, a four-time academic all-conference performer and one-time academic all-district honoree at San Jose State, graded out well enough for the Falcons to make him one of their six draft picks. The guard situation is unsettled, particularly at right guard with returning starter Chris Chester recovering from shoulder surgery and Mike Person making the transition from center. Schweitzer has lined up at both guard spots during OTAs.
It's no surprise he's relying on his brain to help him adjust to the NFL.
"You know, I’ve got to play to my strengths," Schweitzer said. "I’m not a freak athlete running, like, a 4.7, but I pick up things quickly. When I’m told something once, I fix it. So I’m going to work hard. That’s how I’ve been my whole life."
The Falcons certainly hope Schweitzer finds the right chemistry with the rest of the offensive line to contribute as a rookie.