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Eric Peterson, Published October 25 2012

Military service leads to late start with Dragons for 24-year-old freshman

Moorhead - Steve Schutz has served six years in the Air Force, worked on a $120 million aircraft and bought a house last month.

He’s not your typical freshman college football player.

“He is the only guy on our team who owns his own house,” Minnesota State Moorhead head coach Steve Laqua said. “That is not something you normally see as a coaching staff.”

Prior to this fall, Schutz hadn’t seen football game action since 2005, which was his final season at Kimball (Minn.) Area High School.

“I’m living my dream,” he said. “I’m doing it quite a few years after I thought I would, but it’s been great.”

In his first season with the Dragons, the 24-year-old Schutz has worked his way into the defensive line rotation. MSUM (1-7, 1-7 NSIC) hosts Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference foe Minot State at 1 p.m. Saturday at Alex Nemzek Stadium. Schutz has 14 tackles, including three for a loss, and a half-sack heading into that game.

“We give him a hard time because he’s so old,” cracked Dragons senior defensive tackle Steve Parks. “It’s good to have him. He works hard. I respect that and I feed off that.”

Schutz – who is often called “Old Man Steve,” “father,” or “grandpa” by his MSUM teammates – decided to enlist in the Air Force after high school, instead of going to college and playing football.

Schutz signed on a for a six-year commitment with the Air Force.

“At that point, college football was done,” he said. “That was the end of it.”

Schutz did his basic training in Texas and eventually would spend three years in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he was an aircraft mechanic. Schutz worked on F-16s during his time in Alaska.

“It’s pretty similar to working on a car, but there is no margin for error,” Schutz said. “Airplanes fall out of the sky when things go wrong. You just don’t pull over on the side of the road.”

Schutz’s travels landed him in places like Japan, Hawaii and Guam. He also did a tour in Kuwait and spent a year in South Korea.

Schutz was deployed to Kuwait in the summer of 2008, and that’s when he started to seriously lift weights. Schutz spent around four months in Kuwait, performing guard duty. During that time in Kuwait, it was suggested Schutz try athletics again.

“Someone said to me, ‘Why are you in the Air Force? You should be playing college sports somewhere,’ ” Schutz said. “I put that in the back of my head, and continued to work out and get big and strong.”

Schutz was stationed in South Korea in 2010 when he decided he wasn’t going to continue with the Air Force after his six years were done. Schutz finished his service in the Florida panhandle where he again was working as an aircraft mechanic. That’s where he worked on F-35s, which have stealth capability.

“You can’t fix it with a hammer,” he said. “You have to be very careful.”

Schutz decided on MSUM because of its construction management program. He also has family in the area and liked the Fargo-Moorhead community. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end said he first contacted Laqua via email and was with the team by the first day of fall camp.

“After that first week of the fall camp, we felt he was a guy who had some skills,” Laqua said. “He was certainly raw and rusty. … Every week is seems like we are seeing a little more and more out of him.”

Laqua said Schutz has set a great example for the other freshmen. He’s even had an influence on the upperclassmen.

“It’s pretty cool to know someone who has been all those different places that I will probably never get to go,” Parks said. “On the field, he is a freshman and looks to us upperclassmen for help. Off the field, I can look up to him a little bit. … He’s an older man so he is doing all that grown-up stuff.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com