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August 10, 2013
After a stellar career at UNC, linebacker Kevin Reddick graduated and took his skills to the NFL and after going undrafted, signed a free agent contract with the New Orleans Saints where he will compete for a spot on the team.
Back in Chapel Hill, in the void created by Reddick's departure, two players are battling it out to fill his shoes.
Jeff Schoettmer and Dan Mastromatteo are the two guys looking to become a starter at the "Will" position.
Tar Heel Illustrated caught up with Schoettmer after practice Friday afternoon and found out that the competition, while competitive and fierce, isn't one of the cutthroat variety.
"I think it's going great. Dan Mastromatteo and I are competing for the starting job. I'm getting a little more one reps than he was but he's doing a great job," said Schoettmer. "We're great friends so we enjoy competing with each other. We're not afraid to critique each other when one of us messes up. We help each other out all the time in the film room. We're close friends off the field and its fun battling with him."
Battling and competing, but helping to push one another in pursuit of a team goal, is the hallmark of any good college football program.
For Schoettmer, the opportunity to see major playing time this season comes after a journey that began when he walked onto the team a couple years ago.
Since that time, Schoettmer, who played safety in high school and at the beginning of his collegiate career, has used a foot injury and inspiration from a former coaching staff to make the transition to the linebacker position.
"Coach Kauffman, with the old staff, kind of put the bug in my ear. In high school I wasn't very big. I played safety and didn't lift as much. When I got here, I got in the weight program and started developing a little bit," said Schoettmer. "Before they were thinking about leaving, he was saying we might be thinking about you at linebacker this spring. So that bug was in my ear. I thought if I kept putting on weight I could do it.
"I broke my foot in February so I was out for about five months. That kind of helped me put on some weight. I was able to focus on lifting because I wasn't running as much. I gained a solid 15 pounds this offseason so at the start of camp I was up to 228. I'm hoping to play this season at that weight."
Having played multiple positions during his time at UNC, Schoettmer feels that gives him a leg up because he understands the assignments doled out to the other members of the defense.
That experience could give him the inside track to win the starting job.
"When Fedora came in I went to the "Ram" which is more of an outside linebacker hybrid position so that would help ease the transition. Then in the fall camp I switched to inside. I played "Mike" and "Will" (linebacker). So it was a pretty easy transition," said Schoettmer. "I mean it's a little different. You're playing in the box, you've got to be more physical but the added weight helped me. I enjoy it. I like playing linebacker a lot.
"Definitely. I came in as a "Ram" and that helps me understand the gaps better. I know the "Ram's" gaps, the "Mike's" gaps and that helps me ultimately communicate with people better," said Schoettmer. "With the defensive line and the "Ram," make sure we're all on the same page about what gaps we have."
Some people might look at Schoettmer's career history and assume that because he's a former walk-on, he might have an advantage in the scrappiness department. Schoettmer insists that there isn't any sort of chip on his shoulder and that he hopes the coaching staff will see him for what he is: A solid football player.
"I'm trying not to think of it like that. They have confidence in me and they put me in there. If I keep making plays, it doesn't matter if you're a walk-on or on scholarship, if you can play you can play. I think that's the big thing," said Schoettmer.
Schoettmer has one defining trademark that has already allowed him to stand out to any of the observers at UNC's practice.
His long blonde head of hair that billows out of his helmet might only be rivaled by Tre Boston's dreads as the most signature look of any UNC defender. That competition is still open as well.
"Yeah, he (Coach Fedora) actually calls me "Goldilocks" in meetings sometimes," said Schoettmer. "I mean, I'll take it. That's funny."