Iowa Football

A Hawkeye you probably didn't know who saved American lives

Bob Schmitt, an Iowa offensive lineman in the 1980s, was a figurative giant in science

Bob Schmitt, Iowa football player from 1984-1988
Bob Schmitt, Iowa football player from 1984-1988
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A former Iowa football offensive lineman named Bob Schmitt died of a heart attack on May 10. He was 54.

He was with the Hawkeyes from 1984 to 1988 on five bowl teams. He lettered in 1987 and 1988 and became a starting guard in the latter part of his career.

“Hayden Fry recruited him and came to Columbus to watch him play,” said Schmitt’s sister, Carol Schmitt of Cedar Rapids. “It was something I was very proud of, that he was recruited by Hayden.”

But when you read Schmitt’s obituary in the Waterloo Courier — he was a graduate of Waterloo Columbus High — this is what jumps out:

“Bob was a patriot and defender of our freedom, spending his entire career at Sandia National Laboratories where he was a well known expert in shock physics and energetic material behavior. Bob was a principal subject matter expert in these areas for Sandia Labs. He was primarily known for the development of Sandia’s shock physics analysis package which is used throughout the US government and is the most used software of its kind in the Department of Defense. Sandia’s shock physics code was used by U.S. Army researchers to rapidly address a critical challenge in support of our Nation’s warfighters and was cited for saving many US lives by the Secretary of Defense. Bob’s work was recognized internally and externally for sustained excellence. Given the impact of his work with shock physics, Bob’s death will be felt all over the country. He was respected as a mentor and his talents cannot be replaced.”

I contacted Sandia, in Albuquerque, N.M., where Schmitt worked and lived, to try to help me define shock physics for this column, but only got as far as the media relations department.

But I can tell you shock physics is applied to several fields, including defense and security in regards to bullet impacts and explosions. Carol Schmitt said her brother “had a plaque that said he was recognized by the U.S. government for saving lives during the Iraq War.”

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“What he did was secretive,” she said. “It was something he couldn’t share when our family got together.

“There are patents on his work. His name is on documents that are of a high-security nature in Washington.

“If you sat next to him, you’d never have known he had accomplished so much. That even threw some of us off as siblings.”

Marv Cook, the head football coach at Iowa City Regina and former prolific NFL tight end, was a Hawkeye teammate of Schmitt’s.

“He was brilliant,” Cook said. “I always knew he’d be extremely successful at whatever he pursued.”

“We were in the same class. Ten of us in that class were from the state of Iowa. When we were in school then, we were in the dorms for four years. We spent a lot of time together. He was scary smart. He was truly a great teammate, a great friend, a great guy.”

Current Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz was Schmitt’s position coach. He said he talked about Schmitt with Cook and former Iowa offensive lineman Jim Poynton when they were at a recent gathering in Iowa City to observe the 91st birthday of former Iowa defensive coordinator Bill Brashier.

“Nobody really knew what he had been doing,” Ferentz said. “I figured he was somewhere building rockets, maybe building bridges. I’m guessing he was doing some high-level things.

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“He came from a great family. He was an all-around athlete at Waterloo Columbus. He worked extremely hard as a football player.”

Schmitt earned undergraduate degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering, a master’s degree in engineering, and a Ph.D. in engineering.

“He knew he wanted to be an engineer,” Ferentz said, “and he was extremely gifted academically. When you talked to him you could tell he was a little bit off the charts that way. We were clearly on different levels academically.”

There are those in college athletics whose most glorious moments in life come in their college careers. There are those who go on to bigger things in or out of sports, and we know about them.

Then there are some who go out and make profound differences without us knowing it, or them. History is full of unknown heroes. It sure sounds like Bob Schmitt was one of them.

“He’s gone way, way too early,” said Cook. “He was a great one.”

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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