UPDATE: Notre Dame football: Schwapp's death shakes ND family
Pat Kuntz remembers the hardest hit he ever experienced as a NotreDame football player as being delivered by a teammate, and that his6-foot-3, 283-pound defensive lineman's frame hit the turf so hardthat he caromed off of it.
That was mild compared to the hit Kuntz took Wednesday, one in whichthe Irish fullback who once pile-drived Kuntz in practice slipped awayfrom this life shortly after the ventilator that was keeping him alivewas unplugged earlier in the day.
That Asaph Schwapp's passing at age 26 due to non-Hodgkin lymphomacaused such a ripple on Twitter Wednesday afternoon and pushed its wayonto the front pages of the sports section speaks to the extraordinaryway he lived an ordinary life, a man who transcended pedestrianfootball numbers and post-ND football dreams that never reallyincubated.
"I can honestly say he didn't have an enemy in the world," said Kuntz,now working in his hometown of Indianapolis for city government and asan assistant football coach at his high school alma mater, Roncalli.
"We lost one of the best people on Earth today."
Schwapp amassed 98 rushing yards and zero touchdowns in his fourplaying seasons with the Irish, including just one carry for two yardsin 13 games as a senior. His longest run from scrimmage while at NDwas nine yards.
"And if I had to do it all over again, go through the recruitingprocess again, I'd pick Notre Dame 100 of 100 times," Schwapp told theHartford Courant in a 2010 story. "Great people. Great atmosphere.Great teammates. I'll cherish Notre Dame the rest of my life. When Igraduated, they had the No. 2 business school in the country. Rightnow, they're No. 1."
He put his business degree to work, landing a job with financial titanMerrill Lynch, after his football career landed in a cul-de-sac.
Schwapp spent six months on the Dallas Cowboys roster in the springand summer of 2009 only to be cut before having a chance to suit upfor a regular-season game. His football dream ended in his hometown ofHartford, Conn., playing for the UFL's Colonials.
And a little over a year ago, Schwapp was diagnosed with cancer, justas his single mother, Evelyn, was when he was a young boy. She diedwhen Schwapp was 9, which led him to being raised by his aunt anduncle.
"He didn't have a very easy childhood," said Kansas coach CharlieWeis, who recruited Schwapp when Weis was ND's head coach and whocoached the fullback all four of his college seasons. "I remember howthankful his aunt and uncle were that he came to our place andgraduated.
"He was a gentle giant, not by height but by his size and strength. Hewas freakish strengthwise. He had athletic limitations, because he wasso rocked up, but he was a tough, tough, tough physical kid that younever had to worry about what you were getting from him. Every timeyou talked, he was staring you right in the eye and listening toeverything you said, and he just wanted to be successful in life."
Schwapp came to Notre Dame as part of an unheralded 15-man class, theone Weis cobbled together in late 2004/early 2005 after TyroneWillingham was fired. It remains the smallest Irish recruiting classof the 2000s and the only one devoid of a top 100 recruit.
"We were kind of the guys nobody else wanted," Kuntz said. "And notall of us stayed at Notre Dame. But the ones that did were very close.And that's another reason why this hurts."
Kuntz and Schwapp spoke shortly after the latter was diagnosed withcancer. It was two weeks after Kuntz's mother had died from a heartattack.
"The news hit me extra hard, because of what had just happened to mymom," Kuntz said. "I was having trouble keeping it together while wewere talking. And all of the sudden, he was consoling me. That's whatkind of person he was."
He was also the kind of person whose physical strength in the NDweight room is still legendary. Schwapp was even stronger when it cameto his diagnosis.
"I don't think he ever really believed it could take him down," Weissaid. "He was like, 'Coach, don't worry. I've got this.' Typical Ace:'I'm going to beat this.' "
And that is why the end caught so many off guard, because there wassuch a strong belief Schwapp would beat cancer.
"I know he battled it with a smile on his face and attacked it headon," said former Irish defensive back Kyle McCarthy. "Anyone who knowshim wasn't surprised at all to see him battle it with such courage.
"A lot of people exaggerate when they talk about someone who haspassed away, but I truly believe Ace is one of the best people I'veever had the pleasure of knowing. Without a doubt, I'm a better personfrom knowing him."
Staff writer Eric Hansen: