Tom Schneider: Talent for the Game of Life
This story originally appeared in Cal's Kickoff Game Progam on Sept. 15, 2007.
By Anton Malko, Cal Media Relations
Tom Schneider often has his camera out to capture the waning moments of practice. In the homestretch of his California career, the walk-on who played one year of football at Las Lomas High School and now stands poised to boot his way into the record book as the Golden Bears' all-time points leader has made it a point this season to savor the little things.
'I have a big passion for this team and this game,' Schneider says. 'Even a lot of mundane stuff, like sitting in a meeting early in the morning, I'm soaking it in a little bit more. The more I'm here, the more I love it and enjoy it. It's just a great place to be.'
Even if he weren't on pace to become Cal's career points leader, Schneider would never be known as your average kicker. Just ask Jeff Tedford.
'He's a little bit different than a normal kicker,' the head coach says. 'He doesn't just care about kicking, he really concerns himself with the emotional level of the team, the motivation of the team, the camaraderie of the team, and so he's been a tremendous asset for us.'
Special teams coach Pete Alamar agrees. 'No question he's a weapon for us,' he says. 'When you feel comfortable when it's a 52- or 53-yard field goal, to go ahead and take that opportunity for points, that's a great thing.'
Schneider nailed a record-tying 55-yarder last year against Stanford, one of four field goals he kicked in the 2006 Big Game. But this poster boy for on- and off-field excellence was certainly no shoe-in to become the potential all-time points leader in Bears history.
Boos rained down on the freshman after Schneider's performance against Oregon in 2004. The Bears managed to hold on for a 28-27 win, but Schneider missed both his attempts and lost the starting job after the game.
That week, as Tom focused on winning it back, his uncle sent an e-mail to Doug Brien, a 1991-93 Bear, 1993 Cal co-captain, 12-year NFL veteran and the current point-total record holder for the Bears.
'Doug is a big Cal guy--once a Cal guy always a Cal guy--and he contacted me,' says Tom. 'It was a great honor.'
The two started talking technique, and Schneider had his job back by the end of practice that week. He went out and had a good game against Washington, a 42-12 victory, and carried his regained momentum through the rest of the season, ending his freshman year with an 80% success rate on field goals, including flawless performances in the Big Game and the Holiday Bowl.
'Coming back from a bad game was what it's about--not the falling down, but getting back up,' Tom says.
At the end of his sophomore year, Tom began workouts with Brien to keep the improvement curve pointing upward. After some struggles with consistency, Tom turned in a terrific junior season in 2006, connecting on all 46 extra-point attempts and 14-of-18 field goals.
'He's a very good student of the game,' says Brien. 'That's the biggest reason I like to work with Tom. He has a great work ethic that will help him in whatever he does. I also like how he thinks outside of the box, always thinking up innovative ways to do things. I wish I had some of his ideas when I was playing.'
Says Schneider of his mentor, 'I really like his philosophy of how you go about it. It's similar to my own. The technique is a huge part, the physical side is a huge part and so is the mental side. When it all comes together right, things are going well.'
Among the teachings Tom has absorbed is the use of different sized shoes for each foot. 'I use a size 10-1/2 on my left and a 9 on my right foot that just kills me. Lost toenails, blisters, you name it,' says Tom. 'It's a little firmer when you make contact, and if it gives me an extra yard, then Go Bears.'
'Tom takes his role very seriously and does a great job in the mental preparation of the game,' coach Alamar says. 'Physically, it's impressive how much he's grown and how much he's worked at it. It's not just about kicking the ball. When we talked about increasing flexibility, he went out and took yoga. We talked about strengthening our core, and he goes out and does pilates.
'Tom is a guy that's taken the kicking his game, taken his job and said, 'Whatever it takes it for me to be good,' and taken it one step further each time.'
His off-field energy matches his on-field dedication as well. Tom may not have a captain's 'C' stitched to his jersey but he could wear the letter for his commitment to community service.
Among his many involvements is Read Across America at Buena Vista Elementary School, whose student body speaks 13 languages and includes many at-risk students. The children have been thrilled by annual visits from Tom, who brings teammates with him every year to read to students, answer their questions ('Do you have to practice a lot?') and encourage them to pursue their academic interests.
'This is Cal country around here,' explains teacher Karen Kious. 'Tom and his teammates walk onto our campus and they're heroes. The students are yelling, 'The Cal players are here!' and the teachers are just as bad.'
'I'm a local guy from Walnut Creek and it's a pretty close-knit community,' Tom explains. 'It's such a cool opportunity to go to this place where you can make a difference. The message is to continue to pursue academic endeavors and to remember that when you go to college, to pursue what you're interested in.'
As he sees Tom approaching his scoring record -- Schneider entered the season at No. 4 all-time, 32 points away after a 97-point season in 2006 -- the current record holder recognizes another factor their college careers have had in common. 'We've both played for great teams,' Brien says. 'That's the only way to break a scoring record.'
Brien's spirit certainly won't be broken if and when Schneider takes his place atop the all-time scoring ranks. 'It is actually very fulfilling to feel like I will still have a part in the record once he breaks it,' Doug says. 'He is a great kid and I'm happy his hard work is paying dividends for the Bears.'
Tom's winning approach to kicking could serve him well for the long haul, putting Schneider in position to continue playing professionally after he gets his diploma.
The NFL 'would be like step number 85, and I'm on about step seven,' Tom says. 'I have a long season ahead of me, but that would definitely be an endeavor that I would be interested in. Right now I am living in the moment, and it's about our opponent this weekend.'
While Tom keeps his focus on the next opponent, his larger perspective includes a commitment to mentor future kickers on the team. 'Mark Jensen ('99-02), Doug, Nick Harris ('97-00), a lot of the Cal guys, they come back and train here during the summer, and they're such a great tool to learn from, always there to help,' Schneider says. 'I know down the line I plan to be around training, so I hope I can be a resource as well.'
The entire Cal community certainly hopes so, too.