At 30, Central York grad Eric Schwartz journeys from Marines to college football
Eric Schwartz likes to say that his life is an open book.
He's willing to tell anybody who asks about the past 12 years of his life. He just doesn't go around broadcasting it.
That period of Schwartz's life ranges from poor choices made as a college freshman to becoming a hero in the eyes of many.
Now, however, he's just a college football player, putting the final touches on a career that's spanned much of his 30 years, with a pretty significant four-year hiatus mixed in.
"When I introduce myself to people, I'm not like a, 'Hi, I'm Eric. I play football and was a former Marine,'" Schwartz said. "To me, it's part of my story. It is what it is. I'm not one to look for attention or pat myself on the back."
Local all-star: Schwartz's story starts as a teenager on the field of Central York High School.
Playing for the Panthers more than a decade ago, Schwartz shined, eventually leading Central to one of its best seasons in program history.
As a senior quarterback in 2005, Schwartz was named the York-Adams League Division I Player of the Year, while earning all-state honorable mention honors. The Panthers finished 10-0 in the regular season and made the District 3 Class 4-A semifinals, where they lost to State College.
"He was a tremendous leader, first of all," longtime Central York head coach Brad Livingston said. "... It really turned out that, during the first half of the season, he made a couple of plays that, I would say, were game-changing in the amount of impact they had on one or two games, and those plays jump-started that team onto its undefeated season."
Schwartz's play on the field led to him receiving a number of NCAA Division II scholarship offers to continue playing in football. Ultimately, Schwartz chose to stay relatively close to home and play at Shippensburg University.
"Major in beer, girls and football:" Like any recent high school grad about to leave for college, living on his own was an adjustment for Schwartz.
He struggled with being independent and managing his time properly. Football and a social life took priority over his academics, and it cost him. Schwartz admitted that being on his own in college, he never truly learned how to properly study and do what it takes to excel in classes.
He fell behind and stopped going to classes, eventually leading to his flunking out of the university.
"I joke and say I tried to major in beer, girls and football," Schwartz said.
Out of school and with no real sense of direction, Schwartz jumped from dead-end job to dead-end job over the next couple years.
After being laid off as a tree trimmer during the winter, Schwartz didn't want to collect unemployment, and he needed some sort of direction in his life. So, he walked into a recruitment office, picked up the necessary information and, in 2009, left for boot camp.
Schwartz said that, had it not been for the scholarship opportunity to play football after high school, enlisting in the military was an option in the back of his mind. It took Schwartz needing a purpose in life to finally enlist.
"I just felt like a loser," he said. "I just didn't have a lot going on and wanted to do something that meant something and make my family proud."
Four years of service: For the next four years, Schwartz served his country, eventually holding the rank of corporal.
Schwartz was right on the front lines, holding the position of infantry machine gunner. He's the guy you see sitting atop trucks in the turret stationed behind the machine gun.
Schwartz was deployed for nine months in Kunjak, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, and then served the equivalent of 1½ tours in the Mediterranean. He was deployed once in the Mediterranean with a replacement unit and then did a full deployment with a Marine Expeditionary Unit.
After four years, Schwartz opted to return to civilian life, feeling he found the direction he'd been seeking.
"I loved my job, but ... having to have my uniform this way and that way, like, those things didn't affect how good I could do my job in my opinion," he said. "If I could've just deployed and done my job, I would've been happy, but not having a lot of control over my life just got frustrating."
Getting back to football: Exiting a time of war, it was the perfect time for Schwartz to get out and at the age of 26 enroll back in college.
During his time in the Marines, Schwartz stayed in good shape, putting on about 25 pounds of muscle. He's now listed at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds.
After spending a semester in community college to get his grades in order, Schwartz applied to a number of schools that offered football, but only Bloomsburg accepted him. In a way, it was the perfect scenario because it was a school that Schwartz always envisioned himself attending, dating back to his days at Central York, when the Panthers would go to the university's team camps during the summer.
However, because he had become bigger, Schwartz more fit the mold of a defensive back rather than a quarterback. To him, position didn't matter. All he wanted was a chance to have a locker and be part of a team again.
"I felt like I could just be a special-teams guy and maybe get a few snaps here and there," Schwartz said. "But, when I came here, my first year, I was just happy to be on the team and have a locker."
Every winter, Bloomsburg holds walk-on tryouts, where the coaching staff holds open tryouts for about 20 or so players who want to play on the team. After the tryouts, the coaching staff selects a half-dozen players, who will then go through spring workouts with the team.
In each walk-on group, there are a select number of players who the coaching staff knows will be part of the team, and Schwartz was one of those guys, according to longtime coach Paul Darragh.
"His experience, having gone through the Marine Corps, it was a no-brainer to give a guy like him an opportunity," Darragh said. "It was a win-win, because it's nice when you can add somebody who, just by his own life experiences, can influence in a positive way the guys on the team."
Becoming a leader: Year by year, Schwartz began making a bigger impact on the field for the Huskies.
He saw the field in all 13 games for Bloomsburg in 2014, serving mostly on special teams but also playing some as a backup safety. He forced a fumble, had one fumble recovery and an interception.
In 2015, he appeared in 10 games and then 11 in 2016, with his role on the team growing more each season, eventually transitioning to safety.
"My coach instilled some confidence in me and was just like, 'You can play here and do some things here,'" Schwartz said about becoming a defensive back. "From there, I just progressed, and as I learned more about how to play the position and how to be a safety, I just developed and it worked out."
Darragh said that Schwartz's overall athleticism has allowed him to use Schwartz in many different schemes, despite Schwartz being just a few years into playing the position. This year, Swartz has 22 total tackles, including 16 solo tackles for the Huskies, who are 3-1 overall.
He was recognized as the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Eastern Division Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts in a 27-10 victory over Gannon on Sept. 16. It marked the first time in Schwartz's collegiate career that he has been honored with a weekly award from the league.
In that game, he led the Huskies with a career-high nine total tackles (seven solo), a sack and an interception.
Schwartz isn't the only member of the Bloomsburg team with military service on his side. Alex Findura is a tight end who began his college career at Georgia State before enlisting in the Marines and is now with the Huskies after returning to civilian life.
Schwartz's time as a football player is almost up. When he graduates in December, he'll do so with a degree in exercise science and take a job at Explosive Sports Performance in Harrisburg.
In four seasons, he's gone from 27-year-old walk-on to 30-year-old team captain, an honor bestowed on him by his teammates.
For a man who gave four years of his life to his country, it's just the latest form of honor Schwartz has received.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org