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March 27, 2011
Kona Schwenke knew the spurt would happen.
During high school Schwenke built his reputation as a lean defensive end prospect with the type of frame that could carry a great deal more weight. His high school coaches told him the pounds would come eventually.
Did they ever.
Schwenke checked into spring practice as the biggest weight gainer on the roster and it wasn’t even close. The rising sophomore added some 40 pounds and now checks in at 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds.
Even though he knew it would happen with the benefit of good nutrition and the help of strength and conditioning guru Paul Longo, the results have still caught Schwenke by surprise.
“It kind of shocked me after the first couple months when I shot from 235 to about 260,” he said. “I had to go the store and buy some new clothes too.”
Lost in the not-so-subtle change to his body is just how much it meant to Schwenke in terms of being an unexpected contributor last fall during his freshman season.
Schwenke spent the better portion of last season on the bench, seemingly on track for a redshirt. But with some injuries up front he earned his first playing time against Tulsa and came up with a fumble recovery.
By the end of the season Schwenke had accumulated just a couple tackles and that recovery but he had, perhaps more importantly, shown the coaching staff he could contribute.
Schwenke didn’t expect it to happen but keeping his nose to the grindstone helped.
“You can’t really stress your mind on something about football in college,” Schwenke said. “Someone may go down and the team might need you. You’ve just gotta step up and if they call you you’ve just gotta come in and do your best.
“That’s what I was thinking. I was thinking that anything could happen. It was kind of a shock when I got pulled up. I wasn’t really getting that much reps. But I got the hang of it as the season went on.”
But the playing time wouldn’t have come at all without those weight room gains. Playing defensive end in the 3-4 front means taking on double teams and going against 300-pound tackles and guards.
It just so happened that major growth in Schwenke coincided with major need for the Irish.
“We hit him at the right spurt,” said head coach Brian Kelly said. “Obviously coach Longo has done a great job. (Schwenke) has done a great job more than anything else in taking care of himself, eating the right way. You can see that he’s a pretty big kid that’s going to help us.”
And to think it might not have happened at all had it not been for a late recruiting push.
Schwenke had been committed to BYU for some time before Notre Dame hosted him on an official visit in late January, not long before he would sign his letter-of-intent at a ceremony back in Hawaii.
By the time pen went to paper Schwenke’s commitment was all but a formality. That official visit gave him a preview of life in South Bend, which has required some adjustments.
“I’ve probably gotta say it’s the weather,” Schwenke said. “The weather is a lot different than from Hawaii just with the snow and stuff. And with school, in college you get a lot more free time and you’ve gotta learn how to use your free time to focus on football and school work.”
Turns out Schwenke has been able to tune all that out en route to being one of the team’s biggest risers both in terms of weight and ability.
So far he couldn’t have made a better decision with his college choice.
“I’m really happy that I came to Notre Dame,” Schwenke said. “My parents are really happy too that I came here. It really exceeded my expectations before I came. It’s been a good ride so far.”