|Position:||Assistant Coach - Defensive Coordinator|
|Alma Mater:||North Dakota|
Former UND linebacker Eric Schmidt will embark on his fifth season as his alma mater's defensive coordinator in 2018. After instructing the inside linebackers for the past four seasons, Schmidt will coach the outside linebackers this season.
His unit made quite the impression on the Big Sky Conference during his four seasons directing the defense in that league and those foes will still have to find a way to score on the Fighting Hawks over the next two despite their independent status. UND will play eight Big Sky opponents over the next two seasons before joining the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020.
A handful of injuries, including significant ones to returning All-Americans Deion Harris and Cole Reyes, prevented Schmidt's defense from being among the league leaders in total defense in 2017. That standard had become the norm for the program in each of the prior three seasons as it consistently ranked among the top two in rushing defense and total defense. The statistics regressed, but the unit still received stellar individual play from outside linebacker Tanner Palmborg, who earned All-Big Sky accolades along with defensive tackle Tank Harris. It was the second consecutive season Harris earned all-league distinction.
The consistency from the defense during Schmidt's first three seasons culminated in 2016 with nine wins, a Big Sky Championship and the program's first FCS Playoff berth. During the historical campaign, the Fighting Hawks yielded only 91.3 ypg on the ground, which ranked sixth in the FCS and the unit's 20 interceptions were the second most in the country.
Reyes captained the defense and earned All-America honors along with classmate Deion Harris. Those two combined for eight interceptions and four pick-sixes. Nine defenders earned All-Big Sky recognition and Reyes was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year.
In 2015, senior Will Ratelle, who earned first team All-Big Sky honors after reaching the century mark in tackles once again, spearheaded the defense that was sixth nationally against the run, yielding only 100.3 ypg. Ratelle signed a free-agent deal with the Atlanta Falcons in the offseason.
He was one of five UND defenders to garner all-conference honors. Junior Brian Labat (OLB) and sophomore Cole Reyes (S) were named to the second team, while classmate Brandon Dranka (DE) was named to the third team and junior Noah Johnson (DE) earned honorable mention honors.
In 2014, Ratelle earned All-Big Sky honorable mention honors and became the first UND player to eclipse the century mark in tackles since Digger Anderson (2004), finishing with 106. Ratelle was one of three UND defenders to garner all-conference honors in Schmidt's first season back at UND.
Schmidt's unit was also among the best in the FCS in tackles for loss, racking up the sixth-highest total in the country with 111. That total topped the Big Sky and the defense's 34 sacks were second most in the league.
Schmidt is no stranger to head coach Bubba Schweigert as he spent the previous six seasons as a pupil of UND's second-year head coach during his time at Southern Illinois and excelling for him as a player at UND from 1997-2001.
“Eric Schmidt is one of the top, young defensive minds in the game, especially when it comes to a 3-4 defense. He had a lot of responsibility down at Southern Illinois for us and I have a lot of confidence in him,” Schweigert said. “And that is not only as a defensive coordinator, but as a leader overall.
“We sat in his living room as a high school senior and he told us he was coming to UND so we can win a national championship. That was his focus and I just believe as a player, he never lost that focus and he was going to do everything within his power to lead our team and keep us on that path. He has the same type of passion as a coach and the last six years I have leaned on him a lot as we coached and implemented our defensive philosophy at SIU.”
As Schweigert mentioned, the Mandan, N.D., native was key a performer as a team captain and senior linebacker on the defense that helped lead UND to a Division II national title in 2001 and has been equally important as a staff member for his SIU defense that has ranked near the top of the Missouri Valley Conference in a number of categories during their tenure in Carbondale.
“UND is a special place and I am really excited to get back there,” Schmidt said. “I really appreciate the opportunity Coach Schweigert has given me. I am anxious to get started and make a difference. I think that is really what sold me on coming back. I am eager to get things started and move forward.”
In six seasons on Dale Lennon's staff at SIU (2007-13), Schmidt coached the defensive line and both sets of linebackers before being elevated to special teams coordinator for the past two seasons. He was also in charge of the inside linebackers during his finals two seasons and helped a 2012 defensive unit record a pair of shutouts and rank 10th nationally in rushing yards allowed. He coached nine All-Missouri Valley Conference players during his time at SIU, including one first-teamer in 2013.
Schmidt's first collegiate coaching job came as an assistant coach at his alma mater from 2006-07 for Lennon before both moved onto SIU. Schmidt began his football coaching career at nearby Crookston High School where he was the head coach for the Pirates from 2002-2005.
Schmidt played for UND from 1998 to 2001 and was a two-time All-North Central Conference selection and earned All-America honors as a senior in 2001.
Schmidt received his bachelor's degree in secondary education from UND in 2002. He and his wife, Tiffany, have a daughter, Kennedy, and a son, Truman.
-- UND --