Jeff Schoettmer has had to prove himself before.
So this is nothing new to the former University of North Carolina walk-on linebacker.
Schoettmer didn’t mind not having a throng of reporters (well actually, he didn’t have any) surrounding his locker Saturday after the second day of the Saints’ rookie camp.
Just a few feet away, rookie defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins was swarmed by microphones and TV cameras.
Rankins, a first-round draft pick, is sure to be a Saint in the fall.
Schoettmer, 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds of muscle and confidence, hopes to be, too, despite not hearing his name called during the NFL draft.
He didn’t watch one second of the draft, so he wouldn’t have heard it anyway.
But he signed as an undrafted free agent, hoping to make his mark and land a spot on the team.
“I’m carrying the same mindset whether I was drafted or not drafted,” Schoettmer said. “That’s just how I look at things. I’m never given anything, so I’ve got to earn my reps and everything. It’s a different level, but I’m up for the challenge.”
The Dallas native has been down this path before.
He was a walk-on in college, shunning several scholarship offers from smaller schools to instead walk on at North Carolina.
“I felt I was overlooked coming out of high school, too,” said Schoettmer, a three-sport star in high school. “But I just felt they made a mistake on me. I was very confident in myself. I played at the highest level in Texas. So I put it on myself that the coaches made a mistake not offering me a scholarship, and I went out there every day to prove myself.”
He earned his scholarship, became captain of the defense and started 38 games, earning third team-All Atlantic Coast Conference honors as a senior. He finished third on the team in tackles. One of his biggest plays was a 60-yard interception return that set up a touchdown in the Senior Day victory over Miami.
But his most impressive feat came a few years earlier when he had to tell his father he was heading to play at North Carolina.
His dad, Steve, played linebacker at rival Duke.
“I wanted to be different and just fell in love with UNC,” Schoettmer said. “It took a while for my dad to jump on the bandwagon. He might have worn a Duke shirt to the games, but he was cheering for me.”
Despite growing up in Texas, Schoettmer was deep-rooted in the ACC. His mother Donna played tennis at Wake Forest, and his brother played baseball there.
Those three schools were his final three choices in 2012.
Fast forward to 2016: The Saints were his first choice when it came time to decide who he’d sign with to try to land a spot in the league.
“The Saints showed the most interest from the beginning,” he said. “They believed in me. I saw a fit, and I went with the team that showed the most interest from the start.”
He is one of three undrafted free-agent linebackers on a team looking to beef up that position.
Just two days in, and Schoettmer said he quickly noticed the difference in the speed of the game between college and the pros.
But one thing that is the same from his college days is his long, flowing hair that often draws comparison to fellow linebackers Clay Matthews or A.J. Hawk.
“My hair was my trademark in college, so I’m going to keep it as long as I’m playing football,” Schoettmer said.
He hopes that is a long time.
His journey started this week. He still remembers walking into the Saints’ practice facility for the first time.
“That was a cool feeling,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I’m not satisfied with just getting here. I want to get on that 53-man roster and make a name for myself in this league. I think I have the talent to do that, and I’m confident in my abilities. I just have to keep working every day. Whatever my path to the NFL was, it didn’t matter. Once you get here, whether you’re a first-rounder, second-rounder, seventh-rounder or undrafted guy, everyone has talent. It’s just about proving yourself once you get here.”
He’s done it before.
Can he do it again?