John Michael Schmitz started football at 5 years old. The Flossmoor native and Homewood-Flossmoor High School graduate first donned a helmet for the same youth organization that would evolve into what is now HF United football and cheer.
So when New York Giants starting center had a chance to help to a youth sports organization, there was no question which it would be.
“I’m very grateful and thankful to be a part of this,” Schmitz said. “What a great opportunity to give back to somewhere where my football career began. There’s no other program I would want this to go to and that it would be as beneficial for.”
Schmitz is coming off his rookie season with the Giants, who drafted him in the second round out of Minnesota. He was named to the Pro Football Writers Association All Rookie team after starting 13 games.
The NFL’s Way to Play weekly award goes to a player who demonstrates proper technique. Winning players can direct a $5,000 donation to a high school or youth program of his choice.
Schmitz won the award after a Week 14 game against the Green Bay Packers.
“(Youth football teaches) not only the skill part, but honestly off the field, your habits and getting your hard work in, your leadership skills, your communication skills, all of that goes into becoming a good football player,” he said.
In college, Schmitz was first-team All Big Ten, All-American and a Remington Trophy finalist as a senior for the Gophers. The Remington trophy is given annually to the top center in the country.
Schmitz was also named to the academic All Big Ten team as a sports management major.
“This kid is pretty special. Those are some accolades,” H-F Athletic Director Matthew Lyke said.
The donation was made official during H-F High School’s college signing day event Wednesday. Schmitz presented a check to HF United President Martez Harding and Vice President Carla Gamble.
“Whenever I come back here, H-F is always welcoming,” Schmitz said. “There are a lot of familiar faces here that are welcoming to me. I’m just glad to be here and celebrate this award for them.”
Later, he signed autographs and took pictures with kids and parents. Some asking about other pros like his teammate Saquon Barkley or Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson.
Vikings college signees asked about the transition from high school to college.
“A lot of them want to know what it takes to get where I’m at,” Schmitz said. “What I tell them is to just keep trusting the process. You’re going to fail, just use that failing as growing. You can’t get frustrated with the process and you’re not going to like it sometimes. Just keep going and, at the end of the day, just never back down from it.”