Iowa’s former walk-on Quinn Schulte has become the glue at Hawkeye’s secondary

IOWA CITY, Iowa — It’s become an annual feel-good ritual in Iowa when head coach Kirk Ferentz has a quick chat with a walk-on and presents him with a scholarship. Timing is random, sometimes after games, during camp practice, or before off-season practices. The most emotional moment for the player is often not Ferentz’s words, but the message to his parents.

At a skills training session earlier this summer, Ferentz brokered scholarships for three former walk-ons. Among them was junior safety Quinn Schulte, a former two-time state champion quarterback at nearby Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Xavier High School. Ferentz pulled Schulte aside during a skills training session, broke the news, and then announced it at a team meeting.

“That was really cool,” said Schulte. “It’s definitely an experience I’ll never forget and I’m very grateful.”

What happened next was the segment that was left out of the heartwarming videos. How does the player bring it up to his parents? Schulte sought advice from senior defense end Joe Evans, who received a scholarship in 2020. Evans told him the most rewarding part was telling his parents in person. So, Schulte exited the football complex, jumped in his vehicle, and drove about 30 miles north to Cedar Rapids.

At Xavier, Duane Schulte coaches one of the state’s premier football programs. Before splitting the largest classification based on enrollment, he led the Saints to the 2006 state championship. Since then, he has led Xavier to six other state titles and three championships, including one last weekend. On the morning of his son’s great performance, trainer Schulte did morning training with Xavier and then came home around 10:30 a.m. He was sitting with his daughter Hope and the front door opened.

“We weren’t expecting anyone,” said Coach Schulte, “and Quinn comes in. I’m like, ‘What are you doing here?’ And he says, ‘I just wanted to come up and tell you I got a scholarship.’ It’s just like, ‘Oh my god, that’s great.’

“And I’m like, ‘Why did you do that?’ And he says: “Well, Joe Evans told me that when he got his scholarship, he literally drove to his parents’ house and told them they were alive in person. So I will do the same. That’s why I’m here.”

Quinn Schulte had an interception against Maryland in 2021 and added another this season against Illinois. (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

What makes the occasion swirl with love, tears and joy is all about parental pride. Added to this is the financial commitment of families to part-time jobs, which exceeds the full cost of attending college. Years of cumulative spending on camps, skill classes, nutrition, equipment, and road trips all add to the joy.

“They obviously made a lot of sacrifices for me and I’m very grateful to them,” Schulte said. “It’s just a good feeling to know that they don’t necessarily have to worry about money for my school and college anymore.”

Schulte had one assignment left after telling his father. His mother, Sherry, was at work that morning, and he wanted to change her personally, too.

“I suggested he stop at McDonald’s and get a diet coke because she loves McDonald’s coke fountains,” Coach Schulte said. “So that’s what he did. He went to her office and told her, gave her the diet, and then drove back to Iowa City to do some more exercise. So it was quite a short trip, but to the point.”

Anyone who knows Schulte, or “Q” as he’s known in the football complex, understands that his conversations are based on word economy. He doesn’t talk much, but what he says has value. Schulte, a dentistry major, has a 3.73 GPA and was one of four Iowa players to receive College Sports Communicators Academic All-District honors Tuesday. His intelligence and hardworking nature carries over to the field.

“One thing about Quinn is that he’s very quiet and he’s really paying attention,” said defensive coordinator Phil Parker, who also oversees the Iowa secondary school. “His dad is a high school coach and deep enough in his pedigree that he’s involved in football full time. It’s good to have a man out there who sees things and knows what’s going on. He can gather information very quickly.”

Iowa plays a zone-based coverage system designed to get as many eyes on the football as possible. It allows Parker to incorporate stringent field geometry and physical property guidelines. Talent alone does not get a player into the starting XI; Resilience and understanding are equally important. On virtually every metric, the philosophy works for Iowa. As of 2015, the Hawkeyes have the most interceptions of any program with 130 and fourth in yards per game allowed (4.7).

As a result, Parker’s reliance on intangibles presents career changers with just as much opportunity as heavily recruited athletes. For more than 15 years, non-scholars and two-star defenders have thrived in Iowa defense. For six straight seasons, a walk-on from a state church high school has become a starting certainty. In 2017-18 it was Davenport Assumption’s Jake Gervase who currently plays as a safety-linebacker hybrid for the Los Angeles Rams. From 2019-21, it was West Des Moines Dowling’s Jack Koerner who had the most solo tackles of any Iowa defenseman in the past year since Bob Sanders in 2002. Now it’s Schulte.

But Parker gives Schulte perhaps the greatest comparison of any Iowa walk-through defender: four-year-old starter Brett Greenwood (2007-10).

“Very similar I’d say Brett,” said Parker. “I’m categorizing him on this one. Very quiet. Doesn’t say very much. Just go to work. Understands what you’re asking him. He works for perfection. That’s what he’s trying to do.

“Is he the greatest? no The other guys weren’t either, were they? What he does in his preparation and how he goes about his business, is he doing it to the best of his ability? He did a really good job.”

Greenwood became an All-Big Ten second-team safety and had 12 career interceptions. In 2011, while training after the NFL preseason, Greenwood suffered a heart attack and nearly died. After years of meticulous physical therapy, Greenwood led the Hawkeyes’ Swarm in 2015, resulting in one of Kinnick Stadium’s biggest moments.

Along with their zone positioning, safeties must demonstrate hitting ability to play for Parker, a former strong first-team All-Big Ten safety. Schulte is listed at 6-foot-1, 208 pounds and is well put together, having gained 25 pounds since arriving on campus. This year he ranks fourth on the team with 47 tackles and has knocked receivers off the ball multiple times this season. Most importantly, he’s only missed three tackles, according to Pro Football Focus.

“From day one, he was always someone who was locked in, focused, always asking questions, always wanting to know why we’re doing it or how we’re doing it,” said senior safety Kaevon Merriweather. “When he got the opportunity to show what he can do on the field and bring a product to market, he was always where he needed to be. He always did plays, always landed in the right place. And I think over time he’s gained Coach Parker’s trust.

Based on Schulte’s background, it’s not hard to see why Parker liked him from the start. A multi-season starting dual-threat quarterback at Xavier, Schulte has had 37-1 and state titles at quarterback as a junior and senior in his last three seasons. He holds every program record for touchdowns and total offense in a game, season, and career. He also played safety and intercepted 10 passes.

A four-athlete, Schulte also won two state titles in basketball and one in baseball during his senior year, which ended with the season ending in late July.

“He just loves to compete and loves to work and grind,” said trainer Schulte. “His team won a state baseball championship on a Saturday night and there was a ceremony for the team to return to Xavier at about 10:30 p.m. And when that was over, he was at soccer camp in Iowa at 6:30 the next morning. So he had about a seven-hour break between his high school sports and camp, which is what he wanted to do. He didn’t say a word about it.”

With his multisport excellence, Schulte was not without scholarship opportunities. Northern Iowa and South Dakota State both offered him, and Iowa State also invited him as a walk-on. But his older brother Bryce was a backup tight end in Iowa. The combination of playing alongside his brother and competing for a program he grew up with beat the other options.

When he arrived in Iowa, Schulte joined Koerner, who had previously done the same with Gervase. Their preparation and attention to detail allowed them to compete with fellow scholars. Schulte entered the depth chart as a sophomore behind Koerner, intercepting a pass in Maryland late in a 2021 game. That year, Schulte’s only Illinois interception came when he smothered an Illini drive on the 1-yard line.

“The coaches just give everyone a chance,” said Schulte. “You have to go out there and earn whatever you can get. You just have to try to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. They can be a little or a lot.”

(Top Photo: Frank Jansky / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)