Imposing, Vicious, and
Every Minute of It
In the early ’80s, Jody Schulz was
(Photo Courtesy ECU
Once asked who the
most talented, pure football player he ever coached was, Ed Emory
without hesitation said Jody Schulz.
To quantify that,
one need only look at the East Carolina roster during Emory’s tenure as
head coach of the Pirates.
names of Ernest Byner, Stefon Adams, Kevin Ingram, Norwood Vann, Steve
Hamilton, Jeff Pegues, Clint Harris, Ricky Nichols, and the rest of the
talented cast, Emory points to Schulz.
At 6-4, 230 pounds,
Schulz was imposing as a player, but perhaps even more noticeable was
the combination of speed and aggression that the defensive end brought
on every play. Simply put, he loved to crush quarterbacks and he did it
often enough and with such viciousness, that after his senior season, he
became the highest ever draft pick in ECU history (prior to Robert
Jones) when the Philadelphia Eagles picked him 46th overall
The road to ECU and
the NFL was a not an easy one for Schulz, at least early on, and there
was even a point when he almost packed it in before he ever gave
collegiate ball a try. His prep days in Chester, MD, were spotted at
best. His prep team was horrible. He dropped out of school for a while, got into trouble with the
law, and had tragedy strike close to home.
But there were some
people — some important people — who kept Schulz moving in the right
direction at the right times in his life.
“I lived what I feel
like was the ultimate dream,” Schulz said. “I got through the
adversities. I was fortunate enough to have a good family life at home.
I had my share of trouble as a kid with the law. I didn’t push myself in
high school, I sat out one year in high school, I contemplated getting
married and then she was killed in an auto crash. I ended up later in
front of a judge for some trouble I had gotten myself into, and he
basically said, ‘Back to school or jail.’”
His troubles and the
sudden loss of his high school sweetheart had derailed Schulz’s plans to
go to Chowan Junior College by one year, but he gradually pulled himself together and
headed down to give college football a try.
“When I got down to
Chowan, they had eight defensive ends in front of me,” he said. “There
were so many kids there for football that I didn’t even have a helmet.
Finally, enough kids quit until I got a helmet. I went to Chowan because I
needed some help with my grades. I went to a high school that was
terrible in football. We won more games in my first season at Chowan
than I did my whole time in high school, and the defense (at Chowan) was
good. We were usually ranked in the top ten defensively in (the) junior college
Photo: ECU Media Relations
Schulz was a star at
Chowan and, since his team played against East Carolina’s Junior Varsity
team, it didn’t take long for the man he would play for in the Division
I-A ranks to get wind of the talented
“We played the East
Carolina JV team,” Schulz said. “I guess that is why Coach Emory took a
liking to the players at Chowan. About eight or nine of (us) ended up at East
assistant coach Gary Fast
recruited Schulz for Emory and when Schulz came up to Greenville he
liked what he saw — and he really liked Emory. But, he also was
being heavily pursued by a number of other schools, including Wake
Forest, Maryland, Virginia Tech and Tulane.
1980 season at Chowan, Schulz returned home to help his family run the
family business, a number of seafood restaurants on the Maryland shore.
While working with the family, Schulz was trying to decide where he
would sign to play football the following year… until all thoughts of
football left his mind when a tragedy struck his family.
“I am in the
volunteer fire department, and was then, along with my brother Tracy. It
was December 22nd and I was home in bed,” Schulz recalled.
“It was 11 or 12 at night and my pager went off and it notified our
station that there was a fire down at the Fisherman’s Inn – our
restaurant. The restaurant burned completely to the ground. It was
terrible and I was contemplating not even going to school. I thought
maybe I should stay home and help my family.”
Schulz takes the
time after practice at
camp to sign an autograph
as Jody’s proud father,
Sonny, looks on.
But Schulz’s father
Sonny would not have it.
told me there was no reason in the world for me to stay at home,”
recalled Schulz. “'You need to finish what you started,' he told me."
So, Schulz started
sorting out in his mind the pros and cons of each offer on the table for
“Honestly, I was
kind of leaning toward Wake Forest because I really liked the linebacker
coach,” Schulz recalled. “When Coach Fast called me, I told him that I
wanted to go to Wake and was leaning toward the ACC.”
Well… Emory was
not having any of that.
What follows is a
true story about the lengths that Emory went to get his man.
“I got off the phone
with Coach Fast and didn’t think anything of it,” Schulz said. “The sun
had not yet set that day, and I live six hours from Greenville. By
sunset, Coach Fast was at my door. There was so much going on with the
fire, and when I answered the door I was surprised. Coach Fast told me, ‘Coach Emory sent me to spend some time with you to answer any
questions you might have so we can get you to come on down to ECU.”
So Fast and Schulz and his parents talked
football. The Schulz family finally explained to Fast that maybe Wake was a better
situation. So Fast left.
morning, I hear a knock on the door and it’s Coach Fast,” Schulz said.
“So I say, ‘Coach, I thought you were going back last night.’ He said,
‘Let’s spend a little more time together because I want to be sure that
you get to know everything you need to know about East Carolina.’ So we
sat together until 2 p.m. or so and he went on and left.”
“The next morning,
at around 11, it’s Coach Fast again at the door. I said, ‘Coach, what
are you doing?’ He said, ‘Well, I just thought I’d stop by to make sure
you were sure.’ So, I asked him when he was going back to Greenville, and
he said to me, ‘Well, Coach Emory told me not to come back until I had a
signed Letter-of-Intent from you.’ I think he really meant it and
knowing Ed, I believed it.
“The look Coach
had on his face, I said to him, ‘Christ, Coach, are you going to be
without a job?’ Coach Fast said, ‘Well… Coach was kind of blunt…’”
Emory to deliver the news that the former Pirate skipper did not
want to hear, so Emory insisted on coming up that night to hear it in
Emory often would call on
Greenville's famed Hallow brothers, who had a
plane, when he needed to make a critical recruiting visit. And they, as
usual, obliged the fiery coach. But it would not be without drama.
“We told him that a
winter storm was rolling in,” Schulz said. “We live on an island (Kent)
and we only have a little airport, but he insisted. Well, it was 11
p.m., then 12 a.m., then 12:30 a.m. and it is literally a blizzard. We
were waiting at the airport. Back then, Ed was a big, big man and we had
got a call from them saying that they had to unload fuel for Ed and they
got a late start, but they were on their way.
was snowing its ass off at the airport and you couldn’t even see the
runway. And do you believe it? The snow stopped just long enough to let
them land the plane. Amazing. He got off that plane and I signed that
Letter-of-Intent. I never looked back.”
From that point on,
Schulz knew he was playing for the right guy. And Emory, he knew he had
a special player.
After working his
way through the fodder at Chowan, Schulz knew that no matter what
awaited him at ECU, he was going to work his way into the lineup. Emory,
on the other hand, expected Schulz to come in and lead his defense.
“Coach Emory had
said that there were positions available, but that we all would have to
work for them. With Ed, you had to work for your meals,” Schulz said.
“(The guys from Chowan) fully expected to start, but we worked hard to
earn (the positions).”
Schulz lead the 1981
defense and Emory posted his first winning season. It was that season
that caught the eyes of the NFL scouts.
“During my junior
year, scouts were coming in to look at some of the seniors,” he said. “A
lot of the (ECU) coaches told me that the scouts were asking about me. I
was very excited. You know, as a player, you dream about that from the
time you are 11 or 12 years old.”
With scouts well
aware of Schulz, he followed his junior season up with another solid
season in 1982 and it was pretty much common knowledge, at least at ECU,
that Schulz would likely be a fourth rounder and it would probably be
Green Bay. But, Schulz was pursuing a different course at the time.
“We knew… everyone of
us on that ’82 team knew that the ’83 team was going to be an
ass-kicking team. We really believed that team would win the national
championship and I wanted desperately to be part of that team,” he said.
“So I went to Coach Emory to see if I could get a red-shirt year out of
my freshmen season at Chowan. I was on my hands and knees with Coach
Emory and (Chowan) Coach Garrison to see if there was any way they could
somehow swing another year at ECU.”
Schulz had played
too much at Chowan as a freshman to have any chance of that happening
and his former coach told him as much. Emory, as much as he would have
loved to have Schulz back, knew his defensive star was ready for the
Schulz looking to
get his mitts on former
star Joe Theismann.
The NFL scouts fell
in love with Schulz’s physicality off the edge. For Schulz, it was
his natural inclination.
“I can only (assess
myself) by what was repeated to me (by observers),” Schulz said. “I
guess it was my aggressiveness, tenacity, and that I got to the
quarterback. I loved pass rushing.
"Football is a rough game and I loved
it. I guess part of it was my nastiness. I am not a rah-rah person. Not
a trash-talker, but I loved the hitting. The contact.
"Anybody who has
ever played football on the collegiate level or higher misses the
contact. Honestly, I miss the violence of the game. You don’t get that
anywhere else. You gotta have a sense of violence in you or you don’t
succeed in the sport. And once you leave (the game), you don’t have that
anymore. You never again get to pad up and knock the hell out of
Schulz was quick to
admit that he needed only look around on the ECU field to see some of
the toughest, best defensive players in the country.
“Our whole defense
was great,” he said. “The whole team was aggressive. We were fast and
every guy wanted a piece of whoever was running the ball. I remember,
probably, the hardest hit I ever felt was by one of the twins, Donald or
Ronald Reed. I’m not sure which one it was… I think Donald.
tackling a ball carrier and I guess I was twisting him around and got
turned. Donald came up and was trying to hit the ball carrier, I think,
and he hit me instead and it was one of the hardest hits I ever
sustained as a college player. Guys like Steve Hamilton, he was such a
good guy and a tough, tough defensive lineman. Jeff Pegues… what can you
say about him? He was good.”
Though he wanted to
be part of the 1983 team, Schulz also knew that he was ready to go to
the NFL. He was convinced, based on feedback following outstanding
appearances in the Japan Bowl and the Blue-Gray All-Star game, that he
would go in the fourth round and it would probably be Green Bay, a team
that told him they were going to take him.
“Where you get
drafted, a lot of times, is about where you play,” Schulz said. “If you
are at a bigger school, you usually get picked sooner. I really thought
I would be drafted by Green Bay and when Philadelphia picked me, Green
Bay actually was next to pick.”
The surprise for
Schulz went beyond who picked him. Thinking he would be picked quite a
few hours later in the day, Schulz was as surprised as anyone when he
heard the announcement on television that Philly was next to select and
that they had selected him.
“I got a call during
the day from someone with Philadelphia and I was extremely happy,” he
said. “When you get drafted, you realize what an honor it is. Hell, I
would have played for nothing. It’s every boy’s dream to play in the
NFL. Of course, now, looking back, I played five years but should have
played 10 or 12. In hindsight, I wish anyone other than Philadelphia had
drafted me. The turf there (in Veteran’s Stadium) should be outlawed… it
should be a crime to have to play on that turf and it didn’t help my
After a two-sack,
10-plus tackle performance in his rookie debut, Schulz appeared to be on
his way right out of the gate, but then, the dirty side of football got
him, truncating a promising career.
“My first game was
in Green Bay and I remember thinking, ‘This is where Vince Lombardi
walked the building,’” Schulz said. “I remember some of the other
rookies, who had played in new stadiums in college, were talking about
(how bad Lambeau Field) was, and Harold Carmichael came over with some of
the other veterans and said, ‘You ought to kiss the ground… this is
“Then the game
starts and at first you’re overwhelmed (by the magnitude of the
experience) but then you focus. I remember that the game was on
television and John Madden was announcing. My mom taped the game and
Coach Madden said some good things about me. I had a good game and I
thought, ‘This is where I want to be.’”
Work ethic was never
a problem for Schulz, who, as he puts it, “…even at East Carolina, I
never felt secure.” Though a high draft pick, it never occurred to
Schulz that he was already on the roster when he reported to his first
camp. And that camp was a rude introduction into the big leagues.
“The 1983 summer
camp with the Eagles was extremely hot and it was so hard for me to keep
weight on with 2½ -hour workouts, and then meetings at night. There
would be a van waiting for us to take us to the hospital where they had
a room for us to go and get IVs to replenish fluids. Every night, I
would be in there with two IVs, one in each arm. It was tough.”
Though Schulz was
working to earn time, the Eagles had already penciled him into the
starting lineup as the left outside linebacker as a rookie, and in that
game in Green Bay he delivered.
“In my first game
for the Eagles, I didn’t make a big deal about it because I was so
focused on what I had to do,” he said. “I did think about (the fact)
that I was starting in an NFL game, but I didn’t dwell on it. There is
so much to learn in the NFL. In college, you just fold your ears back
and go, but in the NFL, you spend as much time in the classroom and on
film as you do on the field, if not more. It is a lot of work… and I
What Schulz didn’t
love was just a few weeks later against Denver, when he first injured
Schulz goes airborne and blocks a punt
Dallas. (Submitted Photo)
“I looked at four
years of college and never missed a day of practice for injury,” he
said. “I never had a serious enough injury to keep me out of practice,
let alone a game. And then I go to Philly and get hurt.”
That injury, was the
beginning of a dark series of events that illustrates how mixed
priorities can spell the end to a promising career.
“The head trainer (Otho
Davis) was the cause of my shortened career,” Schulz said. “Some of the
atrocities and lame duck treatments and unnecessary surgeries were
sinful… really. Otho Davis… of course, he is dead now, but he was a piece
As it unfolded,
Schulz tweaked his knee against Denver. Subsequently, in the next game
against St. Louis at the Vet, he got his leg caught in the turf and was
hit on the knee. Schulz knew it was a bad one, but Davis taped him up
and sent him back in — and he was hit again and again.
“It was a horrible
What followed was
four years of bungled prognoses, too many shotgun surgeries, hurried
returns to the field, and frankly, unethical guidance given to a
wide-eyed guy in his early 20s. And, admittedly, Schulz’s love for the
game and fiery desire to play only made it easier for the trainers to
convince him he was ready to go when he was not.
Schulz played three
seasons under Marion Campbell before Buddy Ryan became the head coach,
then he struggled through two more with Ryan. Schulz did not want to
play any longer for Ryan, but the rules in the league at the time left
him with no real options.
“My options were to
play for the Eagles or don’t play, so I decided to get out,” he said.
“The manner by which my career ended leaves a sickness in my stomach.
Mainly because I think about the opportunities I would have had, if I
had not (landed in Philly).”
Since he had the
requisite three years or more in the league, Schulz was able to
officially retire from the NFL, but that gives him little solace. Along
with the creeks, cracks, and pops in the knees, Schulz was also left
with a bitter taste, which keeps him away from the game these days.
With many friends
left in the NFL in former teammates Bill Cowher and Herman Edwards,
college teammate Ernest Byner, and friends Jeff Fisher and Wilber
Montgomery, Schulz did consider re-entering the league in a scouting
role, but the thought of traveling most of the year soured him on that
idea, though he admits if the right opportunity came along, he might
jump back in.
But today, Schulz
has his hands very full and his active lifestyle keeps him fit.
In addition to
running his family’s restaurant business alongside his parents, Schulz
also opened his Salts Pond Marina Resort on Kent Island, where he lives
with his wife and four young boys. He is in his 25th year
with the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department and he and family manage
his 123-acre farm in their spare time.
He still works out
and has been a regular regional qualifier in the Fire Fighter Challenge,
an event dubbed as the “Toughest Two Minutes in Sports.” He downplays it
by saying that these days, “…I drive the truck more often than I run
into burning buildings.”
Schulz is very proud
of his service and what volunteer firefighters represent.
Schulz, in water
to the right, at
recovering a safe that was
tossed in a river
after a robbery.
“I’m in my 25th
year in the volunteer fire department,” he said. “My brother is the
chief and I am actually running for president (of the volunteer
firefighter organization). (Kent Island) had the first boat in the
county… the first dive rescue team for body recovery in the tri-county
area. I’m in the political side of it now, trying to get a new firehouse
built, raising impact fees, negotiating rights agreements.”
His family has seen fires claim two of their restaurants, so the department holds a very
special place in Schulz’s heart.
“In 1990, our
crab house burned down,” he said. “Once again, fire struck us. (The
volunteer department) means a lot to me. When I first joined, it was the
thing to do in a rural area. All my friends had joined. It just got in
me and I stayed with it.”
As a firefighter,
Schulz felt the pain of September 11th in a way that only a
member of that brotherhood could.
“Obviously it was
horrible,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize what was
going through those guys' minds when they were running up the stairs
while everyone else was running down. Well, we do… it’s public service.
It is what it means to serve. We all felt the pain.”
For Schulz, as deep
as he loves the fire department, he is truly enjoying his family these
days and the fruits of his labor.
“My mother and
father are very active (in the restaurants),” he said. “They are good
management people and that is good because I don’t want to do it all. I
have a family… four kids, a nice house, and a 123-acre farm, and I want to
spend time with my kids.
“I think my oldest
realizes what it means that I was a former NFL player, but none of them
are real football fans. They do love sports, but right now, they are
young and they are into soccer. Still, sometimes they come home and one
of their school friends might (have) asked, ‘Your dad was a pro football
player?’ and then they might ask me a question about it. But I have some
old films from East Carolina, so some day I’ll show them.”
In reflecting on his
career, where Schulz is a little bitter about his NFL experience, he is
nothing short of certain about his ECU career.
“I’ve always been
big on being part of creating something special, and that drew me to
ECU,” he said. “To me, it means more to be part of the growing. We were
always the underdogs. I remember in 1981 against Missouri, there were
signs that said, ‘Where the hell is East Carolina?’ No respect. Hell,
that game, the police even pulled over the bus on the way to the damn
game. That (chip) drew me to ECU. The element of players there, like the
old Raiders… with Coach Emory – the Bear Bryant of East Carolina – he
bled purple and it got to you.”
And more on his
“It was a shameful
thing when (ECU) fired Coach Emory,” he said. “It’s embarrassing to ECU
that he is not in the Hall of Fame. All the other coaches used ECU as a
stepping stone. Ed would still be there today if they would have let him
Like his former
coach, Schulz took life lessons away from his football career and is a
better man for it.
“I kept fighting to
make (it) through East Carolina to the NFL,” he said. “(I learned) anybody
can do anything they set their mind to if they have a passion for it. I
really miss playing still and I try not to think about it that much. I
still have a bad taste about the way my career ended because I wanted to
quit on my own terms. But, I learned that a man has to fight his own
battles and take care of himself.”
In the early ‘eighties,
the Pirate Hall-of-Famer fought many battles for East Carolina… and
usually won them.
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