Broncos' oldest rookie, seven years from his last game, gets chance

Karl Schmitz (9) hopes his strong leg lands him a job with the Denver Broncos this season. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- He's a 28-year-old British citizen, a native of Bermuda, who has painstakingly kept a football dream alive.

He's worked 60-hour weeks to pay his bills, worked out in the beams of car headlights and put up videos of himself kicking on YouTube to attract the NFL’s attention.

But here is Karl Schmitz, the Denver Broncos' oldest rookie, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound package of hope, confidence and pragmatism. Schmitz wants to be an NFL kicker, and seven years after his last college football game, the Broncos are giving him a chance.

"And I know it's like the biggest stretch of a dream that anybody else can realize," said Schmitz, whose determination has even been questioned by his friends. "But in my heart of hearts, I felt like it was always possible ... Maybe people think I'm crazy, but I had a burning urge, like I had dreams about me kicking and being in this spot."

Schmitz hasn't put on a helmet and kicked in an actual game since 2008, his only season at Jacksonville University. Officially, a glance at the school's statistics for the 2008 team shows "Carl" Schmitz had 11 kickoffs in the team's first three games.

But the long and winding road Schmitz has taken to the Broncos had more than a curve or two. Start with having been born in Bermuda -- hence his British citizenship. He moved with his family to suburban St. Louis when he was 16 and played one year of high school football after being spotted on the Clayton (Missouri) High School soccer team.

"So, my college career was pretty nonexistent," Schmitz said. "After I graduated high school, I went to Arizona State for a year. I got a preferred walk-on to Arizona State, but I didn't know anything about (the NCAA) clearing house, and apparently I didn't have enough credits from transitioning from my high school back in Bermuda. I didn't understand what was going on ... but I still stayed in Arizona for a year."

And off he goes. Schmitz spent 2005 in Arizona. He then returned to St. Louis to attend Missouri-St. Louis, a school without football, in 2006. In 2007 he sent a DVD to Jacksonville University, and coaches there saw enough to invite him to join the program.

There were no football scholarships at the school, but it was a chance. Schmitz redshirted in 2007 and played in '08. But after he appeared in three games he left the school and returned to Missouri-St. Louis to finish his degree (by 2011) and work in his father's restaurant -- Barcelona Tapas.

From 2009 until the Broncos signed him after a March workout, Schmitz's football life came with a little "Groundhog Day" flavor -- work, work out, try out. Week after week, month after month, year after year.

"I always wanted to make sure my bills were paid first and I was clear with my working schedule," Schmitz said. "So I mean, if I got off a shift at 2 in the morning, I would drive up to my (high school) field sometimes and turn my headlights on and just shine them down on the field."

Along the way he worked with former NFL kickers Mike Hollis, Neil Rackers and Dave Brader. Hollis, a former Jacksonville Jaguars kicker, worked with Schmitz when he was in Jacksonville and "off and on" since because Hollis runs ProForm Kicking Academy.

Hollis saw, physically, a player who could certainly do the job.

"It's very typical of a lot of guys who are very athletic, they tend to kick the way they think kicking is, use a lot of their leg, a lot of effort to kick the ball because they've kicked that bomb every once in a while and they think what it takes to hit that bomb again is to swing faster, harder and more aggressive," Hollis said. "So, we tried to settle him down a little bit ... But often he was just trying too hard. He's got a ton of talent ... he just needs to let the technique, the form, take care of it."

Finally, Schmitz told himself, 2015 is it, make or break, the end of the try-and-try-again line. He had just turned 28, had spent money on airplane tickets and hotel nights to attend special-teams combines for other NFL hopefuls.

He thought he was close in 2013 to a training camp shot, but the call never came.

"Some of my friends, they sort of got pushy as far as the deadline," Schmitz said. "They would be like, 'Karl, you just turned 28, you know, how long are you going to keep pursuing this?' But they would say it jokingly. But like I said, I had people in my corner that supported everything I was doing. I went about it the right way."

In March, he kicked at a gathering in Arizona. Broncos special-teams assistant Tony Coaxum was in attendance. Coaxum saw enough to report back to the Broncos, and within 48 hours of that kicking combine, Schmitz said he was in Denver, warming up to kick in a one-shot workout.

Special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, coach Gary Kubiak and general manager John Elway were in attendance.

"I'm catching punts and making sure my drops (are) in front of me and out the corner of my eye, I see, I mean, it's pretty easy to recognize who John Elway is," Schmitz said. "I'm like, 'Holy s---, don't drop the ball, Karl.' ... I run over, introduce myself, shake their hands ... I think I said something like, 'This is only the biggest opportunity of my life. It's no big deal. You guys don't worry about it.' ... And after that, I just kind of shook it off and zoned in on what I needed to do, and you know muscle memory takes over. I've been doing this forever, you know?"

Schmitz was sitting in the team's cafeteria after the workout when Elway waved him over and said the Broncos were going to offer him a contract.

Hollis said Schmitz could kick long field goals, or fill in as a field goal kicker, but that Schmitz projects as a punter who also kicks off.

"He really is talented, really talented," Hollis said. "It's just a matter of him finding what good kickers do, that he doesn't really have to do more physically in a game than what he's doing now, the excitement is there, the adrenaline is there, just focus on the technique and perform in those game situations."

The depth chart is crowded -- the Broncos have an established punter in Britton Colquitt and kickers Brandon McManus and Connor Barth. Neither Colquitt nor Barth handles kickoffs, and McManus was benched as the team's field goal kicker last season.

Elway has said he would like to carry just two kickers and one long-snapper -- "in a perfect world" -- so Schmitz has a sliver of an opportunity.

"But at that point it's like I think the real work starts, you know?" Schmitz said. "Like, I've always envisioned myself up to this point. And they put you with every opportunity to succeed here ... you can't get complacent once that happens."