Joe Schobert had to wait until the third and final day of the NFL Draft to know his destination, but he didn't wait long once he woke up that morning.
With the first pick of Saturday's all-day draft session and 99th overall, the Cleveland Browns made Schobert the first Waukesha West product to get drafted into the NFL. The former University of Wisconsin walk-on — whose rags-to-riches story doesn't stop there — will be a linebacker at football's highest level.
By the time the draft rolled around, it seemed essentially certain Schobert would hear his name called at some point. Some draft experts speculated that it could come as early as Friday in the third round, and the hometown Green Bay Packers even selected an outside linebacker in Kyler Fackrell of Utah State with the 88th pick. For a moment, perhaps some could see where the Packers and Schobert's destinies could intersect.
'Just my family is here today, my close family, my girlfriend, a couple of close friends,' Schobert said on a conference call with reporters after his Saturday selection (with audio available at ClevelandBrowns.com). 'I watched the draft the first day not really expecting anything, obviously, and then yesterday not really expecting too much but maybe at the end. I wouldn't say disappointing, because I was more hopeful yesterday and I was more expecting to get picked today, but once I got the call right away today, it was like, 'I finally I know where I'm going and I can do what I do best, play football.''
Fans of Wisconsin prep athletics are plenty familiar with Schobert's story. After a record-setting performance in the state-championship game as a junior, when he racked up 296 yards and led the Wolverines to the title, he followed up with close to 1,500 yards of rushing as a senior and earned All-State accolades. But no big college programs came calling, and he was expecting to walk on at North Dakota even into the summer after his senior year.
'I was in sports every semester (at West), so I wasn't really selling myself to recruiters,' Schobert said in 2014. 'I guess I kept thinking something would come, and it just never did. But it worked out in the end.''
When he performed so well at practices leading into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association All-Star Game in Oshkosh, state coaches insisted that then-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema take another look. At the last minute, he was going to be a Badger. Wisconsin coverted the safety/running back into a linebacker, and he thrived, and as a senior, he was named the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year.
'Fortunately for me at Wisconsin, there is a long list of guys that have done that before me so I knew that if I put my head down, worked hard, did what the coaches said that I would have a chance. It worked out. I always believed in myself, and now, I think that helps me go into the NFL because I know how to work hard. I've put a lot of time into football, watching film and in the weight room and stuff. Now, I just plan on amping that up in the NFL. Not having school really take up a lot of your time, now, you can focus more on my body and in the film room and all that.'
Perhaps Schobert's finest moment as a Badger came in the Outback Bowl at the conclusion of his junior year against Auburn. On Auburn's overtime possession, Schobert made all three tackles — a two-yard loss, no gain and one-yard loss — that prompted the Tigers to try a field goal that went wide and clinched victory for the Badgers.
The story follows a similar track to that of Houston Texans star J.J. Watt, the Pewaukee native who attended Central Michigan as a tight end before walking on at Wisconsin and switching to defensive line. Former UW standout Jim Leonhard, another former walk-on-turned-NFL-standout, has had a chance to chat with Schobert in recent months after joining the program this offseason.
'He came in just this past winter, so I got to see him in practice and talk to him a little bit,' Schobert said of Leonhard. 'He is probably one of the best walk-ons to ever go through Wisconsin. He is just a super smart guy, and he imparted on me how he did it in NFL by working hard, staying in your lane. You have so much more free time in the NFL than you do in college and so you have to make sure you're investing it in your body since your body is your machine and then watching film and just getting smarter and becoming a better player every day.'
Schobert, also a standout on the West basketball team in high school (he hit an off-balance buzzer beater to beat defending state champion Arrowhead in the 2011 playoffs) said the football title run in 2010 helped crystallize his preference to pursue the gridiron after West. He knows he could see a lot of action on special teams in the NFL, something that won't be foreign.
'I played special teams every year pretty much,' he said 'I played kickoff and punt (teams) this last year. My position coach that came in, he did a great job – he coached in the NFL for a couple of years – instilling in us that linebackers play special teams unless you're a bona fide surefire starter. When you're coming into the league, you're going to make your team on special teams. He had that ingrained in us, and we were playing special teams. For me as a senior playing special teams, I know it's important and that's something I'm willing to do.'
With the Browns, he'll share a locker room with former UW and Brookfield Central star Joe Thomas, who was taken No. 2 overall in the draft and appears headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
'I've never talked to him, but obviously, growing up in Wisconsin, I was a big fan,' Schobert said. 'Hopefully, when I get there, I will be able to ask him a couple of questions about how he made his career so successful.'
This is the first year two players from Waukesha County high schools were selected in the same NFL Draft.
2016 — Joe Schobert, Waukesha West, Round 4 (Cleveland Browns)
2016 — Derek Watt, Pewaukee, Round 6 (San Diego Chargers)
2012 — Brad Nortman, Brookfield Central, Round 6 (Carolina Panthers)
2011 — J.J. Watt, Pewaukee, Round 1 (Houston Texans)
2008 —Nick Hayden, Arrowhead, Round 6 (Carolina Panthers)
2007 —Joe Thomas, Brookfield Central, Round 1 (Cleveland Browns)
2000 — Chris McIntosh, Pewaukee, Round 1 (Seattle Seahawks)
1994 — Joe Panos, Brookfield East, Round 3 (Philadelphia Eagles)
1989 — Kurt Larson, Waukesha North, Round 8 (Indianapolis Colts)
1988 — Glenn Derby, Oconomowoc, Round 8 (New Orleans Saints)
1985 — Jim Herrmann, Arrowhead, Round 7 (Dallas Cowboys)
1984 — John Kaiser, Arrowhead, Round 6 (Seattle Seahawks)
1978 — John Anderson, Waukesha South, Round 1 (Green Bay Packers)
1976 — Steve Wagner, Oconomowoc, Round 5 (Minnesota Vikings)
1937 — John Golemgeske, Waukesha South, Round 6 (Brookyln Dodgers)