Schmidt getting kick out of playing for Lisbon

LISBON – Unlike in the NFL and college football, the extra point is no mere formality for many high schools. It is not uncommon to see a handful missed each game.

Thus, when Lisbon quarterback Josh Liberati scored the game-tying touchdown midway through the fourth quarter of Thursday’s season-opener against Leetonia, suspense hung in the air as sophomore kicker Jannick Schmidt – a foreign exchange student from Germany – trotted onto the field for the point after try. Each team had already missed one attempt, with Schmidt’s third quarter kick slicing wide right.

“I had every bit of confidence sending him out there,” Lisbon coach Jim Tsilimos said. “On any kicking attempt this year he is our guy without hesitation.”

This time, there was no doubt. Schmidt drilled the kick high and straight down the middle, giving the Blue Devils a 13-12 lead they would not relinquish.

“It was an awesome feeling to help the team,” Schmidt said. “I knew that the kick gave us the lead. It was great watching the ball go through.”

All in all, it was a fine debut for someone who was playing in his first ever football game, and who only began learning the sport when he arrived in the country one month ago.

Schmidt is from Oldenburg, Germany – a city a little more than double the size of Youngstown – located in the northwest part of the country. He is in Lisbon this year as part of the Academic Year in America (AYA) foreign exchange program and is being housed by Tsilimos and his wife, Carol.

“My wife and I have been approached by the AYA for the past five or six years about housing a student because we’ve had a couple kids go through the system and now they are out of the house,” Tsilimos said. “This is the first year we decided to do it, and we got lucky getting Jannick.”

As part of the AYA program, host families can choose either a boy or a girl as well as pick a student based on their hobbies and interests. After a number of German girls have attended Lisbon in previous years, Tsilimos requested a boy interested learning American football.

“My wife and I love sports and now that our children are out of the house, we missed having kids involved in high school sports,” Tsilimos said. “Before he came over, Jannick expressed an interest in trying football as well as some other new sports. We’re lucky to have him.”

Schmidt – who at 6-foot-7 is the tallest member of the team – played soccer for 12 years in Germany as well as basketball, where he served as a power forward and center. He has always been a big sports fan with his favorite teams being the Miami Heat and the German soccer club Werder Bremen.

“I had never been to America before and I’ve been wanting to come as an exchange student for the past two years,” Schmidt said. “I’ve played soccer and basketball but American football is not really a big deal in Germany. I’ve always wanted to try a new sport in America and football is obviously number one with Coach Tsilimos.”

Schmidt had watched the Super Bowl a few times, but admittedly did not know many of the rules. After arriving on July 28, he joined the Blue Devils’ conditioning drills the next day while Tsilimos began teaching him the game.

“We’ve gone a little bit at a time,” Tsilimos said. “We’ve watched a lot of football together. He’s been really excited to learn and has had a lot of questions. It’s been a learning process for him as we’ll has my wife and I.”

Lisbon came into the year with no clear option at place-kicker. Due to his soccer experience, Schmidt seemed like a natural fit. After several booming kicks at the first fall practice, Tsilimos knew he had his man.

“He kicked the heck out of the ball,” Tsilimos said. “Soccer players seem to be good at kicking the football, and his 6-7 frame allows him to get a lot of power behind the ball. He has made kicks in practice from 35 yards.”

“I didn’t know any of the technique on how to kick a football when I got here, and I actually hurt my knee the first day of practice and had to sit out a few days,” Schmidt said. “The coaches have been great at showing me what to do. It’s been fun learning how to play.”

After a month of honing his technique, Schmidt was ready for the opening kickoff against Leetonia. After sending his first kick down the field, Schmidt watched as Leetonia returner Colton Gudat broke through the coverage. As fate would have it, he was the only one standing between Gudat and the end zone.

“All during practice we kept preaching to him that he had to stay back on kickoffs in case we had a breakdown,” Tsilimos said. “And what do you know, on his first ever play he wrapped up and made a great tackle.”

“That felt good,” Schmidt said. “It was a nice way to start.”

After football season is over, Schmidt said he plans to play basketball before running track in the spring. He said the camaraderie of the team and the school has been one of his favorite parts of attending Lisbon so far.

“My school in Germany did not have sports, so this has been new to me and it’s a lot of fun,” Schmidt said. “The team spirit here has been awesome. I’ve never experienced anything like it.”

For Tsilimos, it’s been a fun opportunity to once again have a teenager around the house.

“Oh, it’s been a great experience,” Tsilimos said. “You’re always a little nervous going into something like this because you don’t know what type of kid you’re getting, but we’ve really enjoyed having Jannick. He’s a great young man. Now, if I go to Germany, I have someone to visit.”