Former IU quarterback Schnell dies

This is already up on the website, but I figured I should post it here as well. Former IU quarterback Dave Schnell died of leukemia on Sunday. My story for tomorrow’s paper follows.

Dave Schnell stood in the shadow of the Horseshoe at his own 3-yard line with all the noise Ohio State fans could muster raining down upon him. But instead of panicking or calling timeout to get his focus back, the then-Indiana quarterback motioned to the crowd and raised his arms, daring them to get louder.He then led the Hoosiers 97 yards for a touchdown that sparked them to what is still their only win in Columbus since 1951.
During that October week in 1987, Indiana coach Bill Mallory had called Schnell into his office to explain to his quarterback that he would have to show more poise that Saturday than he had all season. He thought the gesture was a bit much, though.
“I’ll never forget when he came out of the game,” Mallory said Monday. “I told him, ‘You didn’t need to get carried away there.’ He pounded me in the chest and said ‘Coach, you have to have poise.’ That was Dave. He was just a focused, committed guy. He always wanted to win and succeed.”
That was apparently true all the way until the end.
Schnell, 44, died in Elkhart early Sunday morning after battling leukemia since August, 2007. He leaves behind four children. There will be viewings today from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at Hartzler-Gutermath Inman Funeral Home in Elkhart. The funeral will be Wednesday at 10 a.m. at St. Thomas Catholic Church.

“You could just see the strength he had even in sickness,” said Anthony Thompson, the Hoosiers’ star tailback during Schnell’s era. “He really worked to get better. He had a never-give-up attitude.”
Said Mallory: “He dealt with that the same way he dealt with things as a student athlete. He was tough. He was a good competitor. There was no complaining out of him.”
Schnell was a major recruiting coup for Mallory early in the coach’s career. He led Elkhart Central to back-to-back 9-1 seasons and was named the No. 1 high school player in the nation by Sports Illustrated in 1985, while also earning Parade Magazine All-America and All-State honors.
“His leadership qualities were tremendous,” then Elkhart Central coach Tom Kurth said. “He just didn’t seem to get excited. He just always executed the game plan. We used to marvel at the way he’d go through is reads. Most high school kids can’t even do that.”
He was recruited by virtually every superpower in the country with Michigan, Miami and Penn State among them. Schnell decided to go with Mallory, however, despite the fact the Hoosiers went 4-18 in his first two seasons.
“It was a Godsend that we were able to get him,” Mallory said.
Schnell’s three years as a starting quarterback was in the midst of one of the most successful periods in downtrodden history. The Hoosiers went to the Peach Bowl following the 1987 season and the Liberty Bowl in 1988. The Hoosiers beat both Michigan and Ohio State in 1987, something they’ve never done before or since. They also beat the Buckeyes in back-to-back seasons, which they hadn’t done since 1903-05.
Thompson, who rushed more times (1,161) for more yards (5,299) and more touchdowns (67) than any other rusher in IU history, was the biggest reason for that, but Schnell was extremely important as well. He’s fifth in school history in passing yards (5,470), sixth in completions (406) and fourth in completion percentage (.562). He threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns in the 1988 Liberty Bowl to lead the Hoosiers to a 34-10 win over South Carolina.
“I remember him being a tough, physical quarterback,” Thompson said. “When we needed third and a couple of yards, we’d run the option, and he wouldn’t mind getting his nose in there and getting us a first down. I just remember him being a winner.”
Schnell signed a free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills in 1990, but with Jim Kelly already entrenched as the quarterback there, his professional career didn’t go very far. He moved back to Elkhart and took over an insurance company. He was still working there when he was diagnosed in 2007.
Friends say he always maintained his positivity.
“I’ve never seen a person fight this with the optimism he did,” Kurth said. “He just kept saying, ‘I’m gonna beat this, coach. Don’t worry, I’m gonna beat this.’ ”
He had many convinced that he would. Chemotherapy cost him a lot of weight, as the once 6-foot-3, 220-pounder dipped to around 140. However, he appeared to be gaining strength for most of this year, and brought his weight back up to around 170.
Friends said he took a turn for the worse a few weeks ago, and he was a shell of himself when Mallory visited him in Elkhart last week.
“He was down to about 100 pounds, and I thought ‘Oh, God,’ ” Mallory said. “I have to be honest. I didn’t recognize him.”
But even when things were obviously dire, Kurth said Schnell didn’t give up.
“He’d have a relapse, but then he’d fight it back and be himself again,” Kurth said. “He fought it like nobody else could’ve.”


  1. he lived on my floor at mcnutt quad. Was a great guy and always was polite and friendly to all the floor residence. I have not seen him since graduation but he will be greatly missed.

  2. Schnell was a tough competitor. Condolences to his family. You are in my prayers.

  3. I am saddened to see this about Dave Schnell. When he played for IU he was so much fun to watch. IU had him, AT and Ernie Jones, as well as many others, and of course, Bill Mallory. IU was great during Schnell’s era at QB. He could run, throw and control a game like many of the greats. I remember him raising his arms in that IU-OSU game and thought, “Are you crazy?” Boy could he compete! May God bless you, Dave Schnell, and keep and comfort your family in this time of loss.

  4. I was at IU during this time. It was a great time for IU athletics and Dave Schnell was a part of it. This was a time when IU athletes not only competed against their rivals, but had a little competitive edge within the program. Each team wanted to show they had what it took to win on the national level and at the conference level. The bar was much higher then, and Dave Schnell kept it up.

    Best wishes to his family.

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