INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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CEDAR FALLS — Karter Schult would rather be unknown.
He’d rather be the one no one sees coming; the guy who everyone underestimates. The Tripoli grad, of 8-man football fame, would rather be the guy who smiles at the phrase, ‘Where’d he come from?’ — and he used to be all those things.
Sorry, Karter. That ship has sailed. A preseason STATS FCS All-American, preseason All-Missouri Valley Football Conference and a spot on the FCS Defensive Player of the Year watchlist mean the Northern Iowa defensive lineman is about as far from unknown as an FCS defender can get.
“It’s weird for me, coming from such a small, humbling background, to be a so-called ‘face of the program’ with a couple other guys,” Schult said. “It’s not too much for me, but it is kind of weird being in front of cameras and stuff all the time.
“I just continue to work my butt off.”
Schult became a dominant force last season as a junior, anchoring a defensive line that was thought to be in a tough spot replacing defensive tackle Xavier Williams, who now is with the Arizona Cardinals. Schult only managed to finish his junior season as a second team STATS FCS All-American while setting the UNI record for tackles for loss in a season (23) and in a game (five). He finished the season with 82 tackles and 15 sacks — which is second all-time at UNI in a season.
He’s gone from a kid who had a lot of potential — he first caught attention at the end of 2014, with big plays in a November game against Southern Illinois, as well as the Panthers’ first-round playoff game against Stephen F. Austin — to now being a bona fide star.
Coach Mark Farley now counts Schult on his shortlist of players he can absolutely trust on the field. He threw Schult’s name out right alongside David Johnson — a guy UNI and NFL fans might’ve heard of — at Media Day as the kind of player that defines the program he’s built.
“Karter is one of those guys, like many others we’ve had in the past, that we’ve developed — like David Johnson. Same type of character. How they got to where they’ve got is by what they’ve done in using the resources available to him,” Farley said. “When Karter came out of high school, I didn’t know this was coming, just like I didn’t with David Johnson. When he got here, it all came together.
“The key to our program is what Karter passes down. What he does when we’re not around is critical. … I don’t think any of us have seen his ceiling, and hopefully he can pass that on.”
Schult challenges himself daily to get better. That isn’t a unique or new concept, but his teammates and his coaches marvel at the way in which he challenges himself — whether it’s weights or in the film room.
The toughest challenge has been a vocal leadership role with so many guys gone who had that taken care of before. Again, that sort of anonymity was appealing to a small-town kid, but he’s taken his new role to heart. He and the other team leaders developed the Panthers’ mantra for this season, GRIT, and he’s done his best to live it.
Farley’s sentiments were poignant for Schult. Having that respect and trust is a cherry on top of what he’s learned from this UNI coaching staff — most specifically defensive line coach Bryce Paup.
Schult’s challenging of himself and his work ethic was certainly born from within, but its manifestation is owed in large part, Schult said, to what Paup has taught him.
“It’s crazy because a couple years ago, I never would’ve heard that from Coach Farley. I worked really hard to gain that trust from him. It’s awesome to have it,” Schult said. “(Coach Paup) has been absolutely important. He’s one of the most impactful people in my life, not just for football. He’s helped me become a man and learn how to take on class, football and life outside of it.”
What lies ahead this season is almost certainly every kind of double-team or scheme he can imagine. Schult knows this, and kind of smirked when he was asked about it — both in spring ball and at Media Day.
He’s over his desire to be known. He’s over flying under the radar.
Now it’s all about wrecking as many offensive lines, quarterbacks and running backs as he can.
“I’m a pretty day-to-day guy. I’m focused on practice and workouts, focusing on today,” Schult said. “A lot of guys could get preseason All-American and just be like, ‘Well, I don’t need to work out that hard this summer.’ That’s one of my fears — resting on your laurels or being complacent. That’s how guys go from All-American to zero. I don’t want that to be me. I just continue to show the guys it doesn’t matter how big you are, you’ve got to keep working and doing the things that got you there in the first place.”
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