Geoff Schwartz Q&A: An unlikely journey to the NFL

Posted Jan 26, 2016

An inside look at OL Geoff Schwartz’s pre-NFL life and his path to the Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz just concluded his seventh NFL season and second with the Giants. The Southern California native and University of Oregon alumnus entered the league as a seventh-round draft choice by the Carolina Panthers in 2008. The 6-6, 340 pound Schwartz also played for the Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs before joining the Giants as a free agent in 2014. He was limited to two games in his first season with the team because of a dislocated toe and then a broken ankle. Schwartz began this season as the Giants’ starting right guard before being sidelined with a broken leg in Week 12. Off the field, Schwartz is affable and outgoing, and has a wide range of interests and pursuits.

This interview took place during the 2015 regular season.

Q: Let’s talk about your early life. Where did you grow up and what did your parents do? And is Mitchell (an offensive lineman with the Cleveland Browns) your only sibling?
Schwartz: “I grew up in West Los Angeles, basically Santa Monica about a mile and a half from the beach. I loved it there, the weather is awesome, it’s like 72 degrees, slight breeze every day. Doesn’t get any better than that. My mom (Olivia) is an attorney, she does labor law, employment law. My dad (Lee) worked as a CEO for a while for some small wholesale manufacturing company, then he started his own consulting practice about 2000.”

Q: How much older are you than Mitchell?
Schwartz: “Three years.”

Q: Did the two of you have a traditional sibling rivalry?
Schwartz: “Oh yeah. We weren’t very outwardly competitive. It wasn’t a thing where I would say, ‘I’m better than you,” or this and that. But we competed a lot in everything we did, whether it was as simple as whiffle ball in the yard or other games. We created this game that we played in the house called squish, where we basically played football on our knees in our bedroom and we just went at it. We called it squish because the touchdown was through the door jam, so you had to squish your way through the door jam to get in the end zone. But we’ve always been that way, but we’re both proud of each other. It’s just not a competitive thing to where it split our relationship up.”

Q: You lived so close to the beach, did you like to go to go there and spend time?
Schwartz: “No. I try to stay away from the sun as much as possible when I’m not at practice. I liked some beach activities. I like boogey-boarding, I like body surfing, I like that type of stuff. But I was never a big beach person. I got pretty spoiled because the drive from my parents’ house to my high school was along PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), so I got to see the beach every day for four years, twice a day. It’s amazing how spoiled you get. You take it for granted and then you come back and do it once a year when I visit, it’s like ‘Wow, I can’t believe that I took this for granted.’”

Q: Were you a good student in school?
Schwartz: “I was.”

Q: You don’t say that very convincingly.
Schwartz: “Well, I was a good student, and then about my middle of my junior year in high school and my senior year, I just stopped caring so much about school. I kind of got burned out. I was taking some classes that I probably shouldn’t have. I was being recruited by Stanford at the time; I was going into my senior year. I took a course load in high school basically for Stanford if I got in. It included some honors and AP classes that I probably shouldn’t have taken. It was way over my head. I just kind of lost focus my senior year in high school, but I still ended up with a high-three GPA. I consider myself intelligent, I just didn’t apply myself my senior year.”

Q: And you grew up in an observant Jewish home?
Schwartz: Yes, conservative Judaism. We went to Hebrew school as kids two, three times a week. We both got Bar Mitzvahs. I even went to Hebrew school in high school for two years after my Bar Mitzvah on Sundays, which was torture because if the 49ers - I grew up a 49ers fan if they were playing on the east coast, they played at 10 a.m. So I missed the game. I would always have to lobby my dad to miss Hebrew school to watch the Niners plays. It didn’t go ever very well. But I only did two years, my brother didn’t have to do that. That was kind of a waste, it wasn’t really necessary.”

Q: Do your parents still send you a calendar every year with the Jewish holidays highlighted?
Schwartz: “Oh yeah, but I know when they are. They’re in town now (the week of Yom Kipper). I’m not fasting tonight (because the Giants played a Thursday night game that week), but they’re here. They’re going to synagogue tonight. Last year I was on I.R., they happened to be in too, so we went to synagogue. I fasted last year, and at least my dad will be fasting the next 24 hours.”

Q: You don’t fast because you’re playing?
Schwartz: “There’s no way you can do both.”

Q: Were sports always a big part of your life?
Schwartz: They were huge. It’s basically all I did as a kid. I didn’t play any football as a young kid, but I played basketball and baseball. On the weekends my dad had a group of guys that he played basketball with on Saturday mornings, about 10-15 guys. It was so much fun. I started playing when I was young, seven or eight, nine, 10. As soon as I could get in there and not screw things up they let me play. There was a guy who went to North Carolina, (Cal State) Northridge, Central Michigan. There were a lot of guys that played Division 1 ball and had maybe a sniff at the NBA. So they weren’t going to let me play until I knew how to handle that stuff on the court. That was a lot of fun. Especially in high school, I played football on Friday night, play basketball Saturday morning, maybe go see my pitching coach on Sunday. We had high school fall ball on Saturdays, too. Then basketball season would come around, I played basketball, I’d still be pitching. Baseball season was like the only time I just did on sport.”

Q: Was your dad a decent hoops player?
Schwartz: “He was okay. He was like the hustler. He’s only 6-1. He was the smallest of the group. There was a game I remember, there were eight players over 6-6. My dad was sometimes the smaller one, so he was the hustle guy. I learned a lot about basketball playing with them, because there was a guy for a period of time who was a European player; he played six-eight years in Europe. He and I went against each other every day, so he taught me a lot about how to play basketball.”

Q: Living in Southern California, how did you become a fan of the San Francisco Giants and 49ers?
Schwartz: “My dad is from the Bay Area. I remember as a kid, I didn’t really have a choice as far as football and baseball. I was told, ‘You are going to be a Giants fan and you are going to be a 49ers fan.’ As far as the NBA, the Warriors were pretty bad, and my dad was a Celtics fan as a kid. He kind of let me choose. I became a Lakers fan. Plus, when I was really little, we had season tickets to the Lakers games, so I went to a lot of their games. I became a Lakers fan. I remember the Dodgers, it wasn’t a choice. It was like, ‘You’re going to be a Giants fan, and that’s the end of it.’ Same with the 49ers.”

Q: Why did you attend Palisades Charter High School?
Schwartz: “In Los Angeles, you kind of have to go to the school in your district. When I went to elementary school my grandmother was my guardian. She picked me up after school. So we went to the school in her district. Then my middle school fed into Palisades. So that’s not my home school, but at that point, if you went to Paul Revere (Middle School) you went to Palisades.”

Q: So how far was Palisades from your home?
Schwartz: “Seven miles. But (the commuting time) depended on what time of day we went; it’s Los Angeles. On the way home if you’re leaving from football practice at 5:30 at night, you’re looking at 45 minutes, maybe.”

Q: You played football, basketball and baseball in high school. Did you have a favorite?
Schwartz: “Baseball. It’s still my favorite. I thought I was always going to play baseball. I never thought I’d play football. My freshman year in high school, I just showed up the first day of school, and they said, ‘Do you want to play football?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess.’ My first year, I started on J.V. and played tight end and I think defensive line. Then I moved to varsity my sophomore year, I played just defensive line. Then my junior year I played O-line, and wasn’t very good. My senior year I got better. I got recruited for my size, I think. But I always thought I’d play baseball. I love basketball, too. But I just always thought I would play baseball.”

Q: You were a pitcher?
Schwartz: “I pitched and played first base. I couldn’t hit very well, but I was a good pitcher.”

Q: Since you had such a spotty football career, when did the college recruiters start coming around?
Schwartz: “The spring of my senior year, I went to a USC football camp. It was like a junior day or something. Ed Orgeron (then a USC assistant coach) shook my hand and noticed me. He was like, ‘Oh you’re a big guy.’ Then they sent me a letter. With Oregon, we had a friend of the program who just casually mentioned me to the program. I think they just wrote me a letter out of niceness. My dad’s friend was a big-time guy over at Oregon. I don’t think they took me seriously for a while. But when you start going to these camps - I went to a UCLA camp, got an offer from UCLA. I got offered from Oregon, I got offered from Stanford, Arizona. Once you start getting offers, then they kind of just start rolling in after that.”

Q: Why did you ultimately choose Oregon?
Schwartz: “I always wanted to go to UCLA. Both my parents graduated from UCLA, I went to every game as a kid. That’s where my Saturdays were. We either played basketball or we went to the Rose Bowl, that’s what it was. Things just didn’t work out very well with UCLA; there were some issues with the way they recruited me. Oregon was just kind of there at the end. I don’t want to say that, I don’t think that’s the way to put it, but they just were the most family-oriented. I really liked that about them. They were close. I think they have the most-tenured coaching staff. They didn’t have a coaching change in like three years. They just keep their staff going. I really liked my visit there. My visit was first class in the way they handled everything. And I just really enjoyed my visit there and the coaching staff, and I felt comfortable going up there.”

Q: Did your parents lobby for you to stay closer to home?
Schwartz: “Well, the UCLA thing just didn’t work out. I’m glad I went away. But had USC offered me, because I was close to getting an offer from USC. They were so good at that time. But I don’t like USC at all. I might have gone, I don’t know. But I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision.”

Q: As you look back, are you happy you chose Oregon?
Schwartz: “I loved it there. The football was great, it was unbelievable. The fans are amazing, very supportive. Obviously, the Nike thing (support and financial contributions) is great, our facilities are unbelievable, our uniforms. The weather sucks, but what are you going to do about it? It rains just about every day in the winter or its overcast. You get a little depressed the first winter you’re there. But I made some great friends, we had some great memories. We were good some years, we were bad some years. But the first part of that ‘Win the day’ kind of culture was my senior year, so it’s kind of cool to be part of what has become of the team now.”

Q: When did you start to think or someone told you, “You might play in the NFL someday.”?
Schwartz: “My junior year in college, I played with a back injury all season. I played really bad. I should have redshirted. I had a redshirt available and didn’t take it. To be honest with you, I don’t know when I thought I could play in the NFL. After my junior year I got told by a couple people at Oregon I’d never play in the NFL. So it gave me some motivation. Then my senior year I just went out and played. I was healthy. I just kept playing.”

Q: What position did you play?
Schwartz: “Right tackle. I got invited to the East-West game. I had agents start calling me and stuff like that. That’s kind of when you realize things might be looking up for the NFL.”

Q: Did you have a sense that you were going to get drafted?
Schwartz: “My agents were really honest with me, that’s what I liked about them. They told me fourth to sixth round. I was probably the like 13th-15th tackle available. In that year they made a huge run on tackles in the first two rounds. They had drafted 10 in the first two rounds, so I thought, ‘Okay sweet, maybe I’ll go higher than I should.’ Back then, the draft was two days, it was round one and two the first say, then the rest the second day. So I told myself I wasn’t going to watch. But I had to watch, because I might get drafted. So at 6 a.m. Sunday morning I woke up and sat in front on the T.V. for about seven hours until I got drafted. It was brutal, it was miserable. My phone just never rang. It didn’t even ring until the fifth round. I was kind of surprised. I go back and kind every now and then and look at the list of the guys who got taken ahead of me, and the ones that are out of the NFL.”

Q: Are there a lot of them?
Schwartz: “Yes. It’s very interesting to see. Seventh-round picks don’t really tend to make it. I’m in my eighth year now.”

Q: You were selected by Carolina. You’re a west coast guy who got chosen by an east coach team. What was your reaction?
Schwartz: “When they drafted me I thought they were in Raleigh. I didn’t know anything about North Carolina. So I had to look on Google where they were at. I had never really have been that south. So I flew to Charlotte - and I love Charlotte. That’s where I make my home in the offseason, that’s where I’m going to live when I’m done playing. It’s a great city. People in the south are awesome, they’re very warm and kind and it’s nice to be there. I enjoyed my time there. I was surprised. I didn’t know a Jewish kid from West Los Angeles would be living in the south. I never thought that’d be the case.”

Q: You have had a slow but steady ascent that started with a season on the practice squad.
Schwartz: “Actually, toward the end of the first year I got a call from Seattle to claim me, to bring me up to play. They wanted me to play that week. This is why I have my agents. They told me not to go. They said, ‘Don’t go, you’re not ready to play.’ Actually, interestingly enough, the guy that they took instead of me, I think he gave up four sacks that game, and never played again. That could have been me. They told me not to go.”

Q: Who were your agents?
Schwartz: “Priority Sports. Deryk Gilmore is my agent. Deryk’s an awesome friend of mine. He’s great. He told me not to go. So I was on practice squad my first year. My second year I made the roster. The 13th game, we’re in New England, our right tackle (Jeff Otah) gets hurt, so I get to go in. I play the last three games that season, and things went well. Going into training camp my third year, we thought the right tackle was going to be back and I was going to be right guard. He never came back, so I played tackle. “I played the first five games that year at right tackle, and then eventually they put me where I was supposed to play, at guard. I played every snap that year. I thought I got really good as the year went on, I got a lot better. Then obviously, unfortunately, I got the two hip surgeries in 2011 that ended my time in Carolina.”

Q: Did you hurt your hips playing?
Schwartz: “It was the lockout offseason. My hips weren’t feeling good. The guy I was training with noticed that when I was squatting I was shifting my weight. So I went to see a physical therapist, because I couldn’t go see the team doctor. We worked on it a little bit, and then a week into camp my hip just gave out, it was done. They had a new staff in Carolina, everyone was new. Now that I look back on it, I’m not surprised they got rid of me. At the time I didn’t think they would do that. New staff, new coaching staff, it’s not surprising. I had one hip surgery in September and then I had another hip surgery in December.”

Q: How did you wind up in Minnesota?
Schwartz: “So basically Carolina did not tender me, they had an option to do that. I became a free agent. The offensive coordinator that was in Carolina (Jeff Davidson) was the O-line coach in Minnesota, so I felt good to go there. But it just ended up being a disastrous year for me. It just didn’t go well. I got hurt again in training camp, I had surgery. I was supposed to compete for the right guard spot but I didn’t get a chance to do that.”

Q: What kind of surgery?
Schwartz: “I had sports hernia surgery. This personally was a bad year. We went to the playoffs, Adrian Peterson was nine yards short of the (single-season rushing) record. It was a great year otherwise, just personally it was a tough year for me.”

Q: And then you went to Kansas City the following year.
Schwartz: “I had a great time in Kansas City. I was healthy. Being healthy is nice. When I’m healthy, I can play. Shocking. I had a great year there.”

Q: You had a great year, but they didn’t show any interest in re-signing you - or did you just had a better offer here?
Schwartz: “They showed very minimal interest. I was disappointed at first, but that’s the way it works, not everyone is going to like you. The Giants are a team that I’ve always wanted to play for. When I was going through the draft process, it got toward the end of the draft, my agent talked to me about how the free agent process works. The first team that we were going to look at was coming here. My agent is from the area, the Giants are a great franchise; you want to play for them. I’m glad I ended up here in the end.” A: I would imagine last year was incredibly frustrating for you, having not one but two injuries.
Schwartz: “Most of the time, if you’re unfortunate, you have one traumatic injury. I had two. Luckily, I didn’t need surgery for the first one. Otherwise, I would have been out for the season. But I very well could have had surgery on two injuries, different sides of my body. It’s nothing that you ever plan for, especially when you sign that contract. I’m a prideful guy and I like to honor my commitment. That’s the way I was raised and I feel like last year I wasn’t able to do that.”

Q: It’s unusual for a young Jewish man to be playing in the NFL. Sometimes you’re almost like a curiosity to people and you get invited to dinners or events because you’re a Jewish football player. Can you talk about that?
Schwartz: “I’ve been invited to a lot of things. A lot them, unfortunately, I do turn down. Some of them have been great opportunities. I spoke at a Holocaust survivor gala that was in Princeton that was unbelievable. To see these people, the strength and the will. A couple of them were there six years in ghettos and it’s unbelievable. I do get a lot of interesting questions from curious teammates, nothing malicious. To be honest with you, some people have never met a Jew before. I’m not someone who is openly Jewish. It’s not like you walk up to someone and say, ‘Are you a Jew?’ But a lot of people have never really met a Jew, so they have questions.”

Q: How did you meet your wife, Meredith?
Schwartz: “We met in Charlotte at a bar. Yeah, we’re very romantic. For a couple weeks, she wouldn’t go out with me. She really didn’t believe I played football, first of all, which wasn’t a big selling point; she’s not a big fan of sports. She actually wouldn’t go out with me for a couple weeks. Finally, she went out with me and that’s the end of it.”

Q: Or the continuing story.
Schwartz: “Yes, the continuing story.”

Q: Why is your dog named Oslo Pepperoni?
Schwartz: “Oslo was his rescue name, and then Pepperoni is what my wife named him. So that’s why his Twitter is @OsloPepperoni. I have not tweeted once from his Twitter, it is entirely, 100 percent my wife. Everyone thinks that I do it, I do not. She’s wonderful with it. The best part is she doesn’t even know how to tweet from her own account, but she knows how to tweet really well from Oslo’s account. She hasn’t tweeted in about two years from her account. She does a fantastic job with that, it’s really funny.”

Q: How many followers does Oslo have?
Schwartz: “Almost a thousand. You should follow him, @OsloPepperoni.”

Q: Your son, Alex, is 15 months old. How has fatherhood changed you?
Schwartz: “It’s the greatest thing ever. I just didn’t know what to expect, and it’s been like the most wonderful thing ever. You have a tough day, a tough practice, you come home and you see that smile, it’s just gone. You just look at him and you just can’t believe he’s yours sometimes. It’s just so much fun to watch him grow and learn and interact with him. And just to see my wife be a mom, she’s great, she’s unbelievable. All the training I do, and I go out of town and I travel and all this stuff, she’s got to stay at home and be with him. It’s been the greatest thing ever, I never thought you could love something so much. You have a different love. Obviously, I love my wife, but the way you love your kid and your wife are different things. I never thought I’d feel that way.”

Q: You’re pretty proud of your cooking prowess aren’t you?
Schwartz: “I am, yes. I call myself an amateur chef. For never having been trained, I think I can make almost anything. You can give me a recipe, I can do it, I can make my own recipes, it’s not a big deal. I like being in the kitchen. I don’t consider myself artistic in many aspects of my life I don’t draw, I don’t write, I don’t do any of that stuff, I don’t paint. But I’ll do poetry and stuff. But cooking is my artistic way to represent myself, my creativity, and I just love doing it.”

Q: Mitchell plays for the Browns. Are you two still close, do you talk all the time?
Schwartz: “I guess talking and texting are the same thing nowadays. We text and talk every day. We don’t so much about X’s and O’s. We just kind of vent to each other because we both play the same position. We both know how it is. If we’re watching games we share notes. They played the Jets week one, we played them in the preseason. He just texts me, ‘What did you think of this guy?’ That’s it. I just told him what I thought. He watches film too, so he has to create his own idea and concept of how a player is going to play him, plus their scheme is different. So it’s not as much as sharing of facts as you think it is. We just talk about football a ton.”

Q: Your dad is a weekend basketball player. We’re all frustrated athletes. He must think it’s pretty cool to have two sons in the NFL.
Schwartz: “He mentioned that the other day to me. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it. He was at our game last weekend. So he’s watching our game, and I’m on the field and he’s also watching my brother on his iPad at the same time. That’s got to be pretty crazy. Now that I’m a dad, I kind of feel like I would know what that feels like eventually, to watch your son play. Just how proud he is of us. I know he is. Both of my parents are.