Tyler Schonsheck is a 22-year-old Wixom resident and Walled Lake Western graduate who will soon be a graduate of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Schonscheck just completed his senior season of college football at Air Force as a lineman, in which he earned All-Academic honors from the Mountain West Conference for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. It was this past season that Schonscheck and the Falcons finished 9-4, which included victories over Army and Navy and an Independence Bowl victory over Georgia Tech. The Falcons visited The White House to be presented the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy by President Obama, who mentioned Schonscheck during the ceremony. Schonscheck recently spoke with the Spinal Column Newsweekly about his football career, his future ambitions as a pilot and his singing talent.
SCN: You’re a few months removed from having completed your senior season of college football in which the Falcons won the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy by defeating Army and Navy, and defeating Georgia Tech in the Independence Bowl. What did it mean to you and your teammates to have such a successful season?
TS: For us, the culmination of the year is winning the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. Since we haven’t won it in seven years, it’s been a long time since any of us has experienced it, so to finally get the trophy and beat our rival was such a great opportunity for all of us. And then playing in the bowl game and beating Georgia Tech, it just capped off the season. Everything was wonderful.
SCN: What drew you to attend the Air Force Academy? Playing college football at any school carries a lot of responsibilities, but it’s another thing to play and also balance your duties as a cadet. Tell us about the responsibility that comes with being an Air Force Falcon football player. How did you adjust to life at the academy when you first started and what were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome?
TS: When I was applying for colleges, I was looking for what the best engineering schools in the country were. My aunt went to West Point and she’s been an inspiration to me ever since I started applying for the academy and when I saw what a great engineering program the Air Force Academy had, I looked into it and sent in my tapes to the football team and ended up being recruited by them, and the rest is history.
The No. 1 challenge is trying to balance everything that we have. We wake up at 7 every morning to go to breakfast, it’s mandatory for everyone. Then I have four classes in the morning, I go to lunch and I go to march before that and then off to football. After six hours of football, then I go back to my room and have to balance between studying for classes and doing my military job, which varies from semester to semester. If you can balance everything together, you’ll be a successful cadet and it will be a good experience for you.
The biggest challenge that I had to overcome was that I had no prior military experience. So when I first showed up, it was a lot of very quick learning experiences where I had to find out what I had to do to become successful militarily.
All the rest I experienced through high school, my busy schedule and some of my academics — it was easier to work through compared to my military experience.
SCN: What was the experience like for you and your teammates to be awarded the Commander-In-Chief trophy by President Obama at the White House? President Obama said that you had to drop 40 to 50 pounds to fit in the ejection seat for pilot training. What was your reaction to the President mentioning you specifically?
TS: It was great, the air was electric. We all just couldn’t wait for the experience and we were all really nervous, but excited at the same time.
It was great to meet the president and shake his hand and be there and receive such an honor.
I got really excited (when he mentioned me), when he started talking about losing weight. He said he may talk about me and when he did say my name it surprised me a little bit that he would mention my name and he would look for me, as well. It was pretty cool, pretty exciting for me.
(I lost the weight) through a lot of diet and exercise, I was eating about half the calories that I did during football season. I had a lot of running and weight lifting. My girlfriend definitely helped me out in losing the weight. She’s a runner and she helped me run, even though I was 270 pounds. It helped me lose the weight fast and very drastically, too.
SCN: Prior to attending the Air Force Academy, you were a student-athlete at Walled Lake Western High School. How much did playing in Mike Zdebski’s system help you step up to the college level?
TS: Quite a bit actually. We didn’t run the Wing-T at Air Force, we ran the I-formation and the Triple Option, but … when I was at Walled Lake Western, the guards pulled in the offense. I still use that experience of pulling and blocking like that in the offense that Air Force has. It was not exactly the same, there was a little bit of learning that needed to be done, but there were similarities that you could attribute to some of my success.
SCN: Tell us a little about some of the programs you have participated in with the Air Force, such as a summer research program on flight testing and being in charge of the assault course for basic cadet training. Whether you’re on the football field or in training, how important is it for others to look at you as an example?
TS: This past summer, I spent five weeks in Tennessee doing some research for the Air Force and it helped me see how engineering is applied to the Air Force to help with the planes that we have. The research was very insightful to see the job that I might have.
As for the assault course, it was my leadership opportunity for the summer where I got to lead a group of upperclassmen through training and help them gain experiences that will help them in future atmospheres. We help them figure out how they would react in stressful situations.
When I look back and see all my experiences, I attribute all my success to the hard work that I put in. You don’t have to be always talented and always be the best, but if you work extremely hard, you will become the best and you will surpass those that just use talent as their way to success. Hard work always pays off in the end.
SCN: We also understand you sing in a cadet ensemble group. What kind of performances and songs does the group perform and where do you perform?
TS: It’s a completely cadet-run group. We sing a Capella. We sing the national anthem at sporting events, at functions and graduation parties, and all sorts of events.
The (other) songs that we sing are pop songs and oldies that everyone in the audience can experience. It’s a very fun group that gets laughs and good feelings.
For me, (my favorite song) is a song called “Manly Men,” which gets the most laughs because of the words that go along with the song.
SCN: What is your ultimate ambition after graduating from the Air Force Academy? How will you look back on your times as an Air Force football player and cadet?
TS: After graduation, I head off to pilot training in Oklahoma and I haven’t decided exactly what I want to fly; but when it comes down to it, I’m thinking about flying a cargo plane with the Air Force. The thing that intrigues me the most is the travel experience. When I talk to pilots of cargo planes, they say that they travel the world the most out of any of the other planes, where pilots go to pretty much any country around the world, either to give aid or pick up certain cargo going to a different place. The experience for me would be awesome, just to see every part of the world and gather all of those experiences into my life. That would be the best for me.
When I first came (into the Air Force), I saw this as an opportunity. When I made it through basic and began school, I thought that there were many more opportunities than I could have possibly imagined and it’s just grown and grown to see all the possibilities that are coming up and it’s such a great experience for me to see how the Air Force and the country has allowed me to grow as a person of character and an officer so I can go and service the country and serve the military.