TRAVERSE CITY — Going back as far as he can recall, the experience that sticks out most to Tobin Schwannecke is losing.
There have been a lot of victories since, but childhood memories helped mold a winning mindset from the ashes of many times at the wrong end of the stick.
Flash back to a living room in Saginaw, circa the mid-2000s. Schwannecke is all of 4 years old.
Couch cushions and pillows are stacked up like linemen for the family game of “goal-line stand.” The goal is simple: Schwannecke needs to get a football through the line and past his three older cousins.
The 4-year-old didn’t score the touchdown much, but that isn’t all that surprising when you take into account that one of the opposing lineman was 240-pound Saginaw Heritage all-conference lineman and future Saginaw Valley State University player Garrett Gagnon. On either side of him are John and Brandon LeBlanc.
Brandon was a senior at Heritage and would also go on to play at SVSU in soccer. John was also a standout soccer player at Heritage.
“I’d usually end up with a scar on my head or crying somewhere,” Schwannecke said. “That definitely got some fire building up inside me.”
Fifteen years later, Schwannecke is the 2018-19 Record-Eagle Male Athlete of the Year.
Schwannecke has supreme confidence in his abilities, a combination of knowing himself and the work he’s put in.
That confidence led him to bet teammates he’d have 50 dunks in his senior season, and would pay for a dinner for every one he was shy of 50. Then he lost five inches off his vertical after a partially torn MCL suffered against Jenison in the Trojans’ 64-43 football playoff ouster. He finished the hoops season with tons of stats, but zero dunks. In fact, he never dunked in a varsity game.
“He owes a lot of people a lot of dinners,” basketball teammate Henry Goldkuhle chuckled.
Schwannecke also bet teammates he’d be all-Big North Conference in golf in the spring. Without AAU basketball to play, he’d have the time to add a new spring sport. The Lochenheath bag attendant considered playing golf this spring, but ultimately gave in to John Lober’s repeated recruiting pitches to work on speed training with the track and field team.
Basketball coach Travis Schuba and Schwannecke have a “big brother-little brother” relationship off the court.
One night, Schuba had dinner with the Schwanneckes and then played XBox 2K basketball with Tobin all evening.
Schwannecke won early on.
“Look, you play this every day,” Schuba recalls. “I’m just warming up.”
A few games later, the tides turned.
“You’re only as good as your last game,” Schuba joked. “Then I won and left.”
During AAU season, Schuba and Schwannecke played golf together on a par-3 course in Wisconsin after an early game. Schwannecke was a few shots behind Schuba after nine holes, so they decided to fuel the competition on the back nine.
Schuba played left-handed and won. His prize? To send any tweet on Schwannecke’s Twitter account. Before you know it, a long, glowing message from Schwannecke’s old account popped up claiming his idol is Travis Schuba.
During football games, Schwannecke bet on himself. In that arena, he typically won.
Every time a fourth-and-short came up, the Trojans QB urged the coaching staff to go for it and put the ball in his hands.
“’Coach I got it. Coach, I got it,’” TC Central football coach Eric Schugars recalls Schwannecke imploring in the huddle. “And most of the time, he got it.”
When it came to his choice of colleges, Schwannecke had plenty to choose from. The biggest question was whether it would be in football or basketball.
“Throughout the process I was open to playing one or the other at the highest level,” said Schwannecke, who plans to major in economics. “People always ask, ‘What sport do you like more?’ and I say, ‘I can’t tell you.’”
All of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schools were open to the idea, plus Valparaiso and Moorehead State.
Ultimately, Schwannecke said Grand Valley State University’s tradition, location and staff won out. And he’ll be able to play both sports.
The Lakers recruited Schwannecke with the “athlete” tag in football instead of designating a position, but he’ll get a shot going into camp in 2020 to play quarterback. If that doesn’t work out, defensive back and wide receiver are options.
“That’s up to me to prove them wrong,” Schwannecke said of playing quarterback.
The reason he can’t play QB until 2020 is a recent right shoulder surgery, with his shoulder brace coming off only a couple weeks ago. Schwannecke dislocated the shoulder in the Trojans’ basketball regular-season finale at Alpena, then insisted on playing in districts and scored 42 of Central’s 59 points in regulation in a 74-65 overtime loss to Marquette. He could barely move his hand above his shoulder, but played through the pain.
A year earlier, Schwannecke eclipsed 20 points and 10 rebounds with a cast on his right hand to lead the Trojans in a 69-46 win over Gaylord and future GVSU basketball teammate Blake Charboneau. He broke his thumb exactly a month before against Alpena and did everything left-handed for that game.
“You don’t find many athletes with that type of mindset anymore,” Schuba said.
Schwannecke will redshirt for the 2019-20 NCAA football season in order to give the shoulder more time to heal. Meanwhile, he’ll bone up on GVSU’s playbook and work to get stronger. He hopes to be able to play basketball as a freshman, with doctors telling him he should be at 100 percent by Oct. 1 and the Lakers’ first game Nov. 10.
He moved to Traverse City in 2006, two years after the infamous living-room goal line game. Instead of playing at Freeland High School, Schwannecke went to Traverse City Central, where he’d standout out in multiple sports, including starting at quarterback for three seasons, starting on the varsity basketball team for four years and taking up track and field as a senior sprinter.
THREE OF A KIND
Already a star in two sports, Schwannecke took up a third as a senior, joining the track and field team as a sprinter.
He stepped right in and won 13 events in his first and only season on the track squad. Five of those came on the 400-meter relay team with football teammate Trey Searles, Nathan Pataky and Jordon Christopher.
Both of his older brothers — T.J. and Tanner — also ran track, and T.J. remains one of the few Trojan runners in the school’s all-time top 10 in the 100, 200 and 400.
“I talk to kids every year that are not in our program,” Lober said. “I was really excited to see what he could do this year. It would have been fun to see him finish the season. He’s a great young man. I have a lot of respect for his character and how he handles himself.”
His track season was cut a bit short by surgery that had to be done to ensure Schwannecke would be ready for GVSU’s basketball season.
TC Central football offensive coordinator Tim Odette would say that he’s happy if they had a football game where Schwannecke didn’t throw the ball. Not because he can’t, but because that meant the Trojan run game was working. And Schwannecke was usually the biggest part of that.
“He’s a kid that earned everything he got on the field,” Schugars said. “If you played against him, he earned your respect.”
Add coaches to that list that respects Schwannecke. Big North Conference coaches voted him a two-time unanimous all-BNC football selection.
And add teammates as well.
“Tobin set the standard very high,” said Goldkuhle, a sophomore who looks to be one of the team’s leaders after the loss of Schwannecke, Preston Briggs and Jack Sherwin. “He was always a leader, very vocal and said what’s on his mind. But he’s also very relatable. He definitely puts in the time and sets a great example. I’m going to take a lot of what I learned from him and take that into next year.”
That’s a win.