A week and season to remember

Port alumnus Schwanz wins college football title, visits White House with LSU coaches, players

LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY defensive analyst and Port Washington High School alumnus Aaron Schwanz (right) stood in the White House with the Heisman Trophy and National Championship Trophy last week after LSU beat Clemson, 42-25, for the college football championship. Photo courtesy of Aaron Schwanz
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

One week after helping Louisiana State University to the top of the college football world, Port Washington High School alumnus Aaron Schwanz has begun to comprehend what happened.

“It’s finally starting to sink in a little bit,” he said over the phone on Monday.

Schwanz is a defensive analyst for LSU, which won the college football national title by beating Clemson, 42-25, on Jan. 13.

He celebrated after the game with family members who made the trip from their homes in Port and Belgium, and later in the week went to the White House with the team, rode in a parade in Baton Rouge and enjoyed a pep rally.

LSU’s performance against the defending national champs made it all possible.

The championship game

Schwanz, a 2003 Port High graduate, helped devise and adjust the game plan to slow down Clemson, and it didn’t look like it was working early.

LSU fell behind, 17-7, but Schwanz and the rest of the coaches and players weren’t fazed. LSU beat legendary Alabama when it was ranked No. 2 in the nation, 46-41, during the season, dominated  Georgia, ranked No. 4 at the time,

37-10 in the Southeastern Conference title game, and blew out No. 4-ranked Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl, 63-28.

“In all honesty, we stayed pretty confident,” Schwanz said. “Kids were battle tested. They had been behind the 8-ball.”

Schwanz chalked up the plays the defense allowed to penalties and some mental mistakes. LSU kept its composure.

“The best thing about these guys is they are a player-led team. They didn’t lose focus or confidence or point fingers,” he said. “There wasn’t a ton said. They just regrouped. At the end of the day, they knew it was going to be OK.”

That it was. LSU stormed back to take a 28-17 lead by halftime and held Clemson to eight points in the second half.

As soon as the game ended, confetti began to fall and Schwanz started to look up.

“I’m not going to lie. When it first started to come down, I stood there and looked around,” he said.

Then he looked for his family — his 5-year-old son, two young daughters and wife Morgan, who is from Grafton.

After taking some family photos on the field that they will cherish forever, Schwanz got to celebrate with his parents and brothers in the hotel after the game.

“To have my mom and brothers there, it makes it all worth it,” he said.

The aftermath

Schwanz and many of the LSU players hadn’t been to Washington, D.C., but that changed last week.

The Tigers visited some of the landmarks in the nation’s capitol and had dinner at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The menu had a southern hospitality theme that included fried chicken, gumbo and collard greens.

“They gave us some home cookin’,” Schwanz said.

The Tigers made the traditional White House visit on Friday.

“President Trump allowed players to come in there and took photos with all of them behind the desk in the Oval Office,” Schwanz said.

“He was very complimentary. It was awesome to see everything sink in for the kids.”

Schwanz said it was special that the entire team got to go. The White House visit is usually the week after the championship, causing some players to miss the festivities to prepare for the NFL draft, but the game was held a week later than normal. The entire team participated.

Back in Baton Rouge on Saturday, Schwanz rode with the team in a celebratory parade.

“In all honesty, that’s not really my specialty to do things like that, go on a float and be in a parade,” he said.

But he said he saw the entire state of Louisiana turn out for the parade, including many little children. Fighter jets flew overhead.

“I don’t know how many thousands of people came out. That is one experience I know I will never forget,” he said.

An assembly followed in the Pete Maravich Center, where LSU plays basketball.

“They treated it like game day,” Schwanz said of the packed house.

“It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been fun. This last week has just been outstanding to see the smiles on our kids’ faces.”

Reflecting on a special season

The players, Schwanz said, have been working hard since Jan. 17 last year.

“Early on, everybody knew as a team we had a chance to do something special,” he said.

Finishing 15-0 and being in the conversation as the best teams ever was one thing, but for Schwanz there’s more to it. He remembers getting calls and texts from people from all over.

“It’s been unbelievable. The biggest thing I’ll take away is as exciting and important as sports are, it has brought so many people together. It shows the power of sports and team,” he said.

Despite having quarterback Joe Burrow win the Heisman Trophy and other Tigers taking home a  host of honors, Schwanz said head coach Ed Orgeron’s motto of “one team, one heartbeat” rang true.

“They never talked about individual achievement. All the kids wanted to do was win and reach their full potential,” he said. “I’ve been a lot of places and everybody says they want to win a national championship. They don’t always have the ingredients.”

The Tigers had the ingredients, the recipe and execution. LUS coaches and players this season will be forever be linked.

“It’s not always what you can do; it’s who you do it with,” Schwanz said. “Coach said the day before the game, ‘If we go out, we come together and do what we’re supposed to do tomorrow night, we’ll walk hand in hand forever as a team together.’

“He’s right. It’s one of those things. You win a championship, it’s awesome. I’m so proud of our kids.”

On that voice

Orgeron’s low, raspy voice with a Cajun accent is easy to recognize but perhaps not as easy to understand or hear for long periods of time.

Schwanz laughed while discussing it.

“We understand it, and his message is very, very, very clear a lot of the time,” he said. “As a staff, we can finish his sentences. It’s been very good.”

Ring in the bling

LSU will not receive one ring. The team gets three, Schwanz was told on Monday.

One is for the SEC championship, another is for the Peach Bowl and a third is for the national title.

No meeting with NFL legend

Hall-of-famer Randy Moss’ son Thaddeus played tight end for LSU and scored two touchdowns in the title game.

The TV cameras showed Moss cheering in the stands.

Schwanz said he never met him.

“I wish I could have met Randy Moss,” he said, “although he scored his fair share of touchdowns against the Packers.”

No rest for the champs

Schwanz and the Tigers are already working on next season. He had a meeting Monday and the players returned on Tuesday.

Compared to last season, “We’re almost three days behind right now. It  never stops,” Schwanz said.

Schwanz will self-scout the past season to see what things went well and what can be improved, in addition to analyzing personnel. He will also scour college and NFL teams for new defensive concepts.

Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who was responsible for bringing Schwanz to LSU after meeting while they both worked for the Wisconsin Badgers football team years ago, was hired as Baylor’s head coach.

Orgeron, Schwanz said, will hire LSU’s next defensive coordinator.

Schwanz said he will be back with the Tigers next season.

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