Cowboys rookie tight end Luke Schoonmaker (86) straps on his helmet as the Dallas Cowboys hold mini-camp at The Star in Frisco on Saturday, May 13, 2023.(Stewart F. House / Special Contributor)
Luke Schoonmaker was a perfectly adequate quarterback at a small, college preparatory school in Connecticut. Some coaches may not have tinkered with that. Keep the 6-5 athlete behind center. Maximize his touches. Win games. Don’t overthink it.
Joe Linta saw a larger picture.
The longtime NFL agent, who coaches at Hamden Hall Country Day School on the side, weighed Schoonmaker’s future in football. Featuring him at quarterback, where his left-armed throwing release better resembled Tim Tebow than Steve Young, seemed a disservice.
Linta made two important calls on his behalf. Unknowingly, they sent the teenager on a road bound for the Cowboys.
Last month, Dallas drafted the former Michigan tight end in the second round. That probably does not occur without the guidance Linta gave Schoonmaker in 2016 and the trust Schoonmaker showed in Linta to follow it. Linta now represents his ex-player as his agent, creating a rare common thread in the rookie’s NFL journey.
Schoonmaker familiarized himself with Linta’s background before transferring to Hamden.
He knew Linta worked as an NFL-certified contract advisor since 1990, negotiating contracts with all 32 teams in that span. In 2013, he brokered a contract with the Baltimore Ravens that made quarterback Joe Flacco the highest-paid player in NFL history. He also had extensive coaching experience, including at the college level.
This all meshed with Schoonmaker’s NFL aspirations.
“It definitely was a thought for me when I first met him,” Schoonmaker said. “Him being the person he is and having the connections he does and the experience, it gave me the idea, ‘OK, I want to listen to him.’ He put me on track with tight end, and then he put me on track with Michigan. I just figured if I listen to him and trust him, he’ll eventually get me here.”
In 2016, Linta moved Schoonmaker to tight end.
But not on every down. Not even most downs. He played Schoonmaker there just enough to compile recruiting film to show Division I football programs. Linta then called Don Brown, a former coaching colleague at Yale and Michigan’s defensive coordinator at the time.
“I’m like, ‘Brownie, there’s a kid here you’ve got to see, man,’” Linta said. “Maybe two weeks later, he was in my office. Luke ran like a 4.59 (40-yard dash) at 230 (pounds), and he’s like, ‘Wow, I got to get [coach Jim] Harbaugh out on this one.’ A couple weeks later, Harbaugh was out, and the rest is history.’”
Schoonmaker physically transformed at Michigan under Ben Herbert, the school’s director of strength and conditioning. Adding weight without sacrificing speed, he developed to become the first Hamden Hall alumnus, and first player Linta has coached, to be drafted in the NFL.
The Cowboys see what Linta sees.
Schoonmaker might not be the flashiest tight end; he was the fifth chosen in the 2023 draft. He boasts, however, a balanced trait profile, able to contribute in the run game while doing more in the pass game than was asked of him in Ann Arbor.
He totaled 54 career catches for 637 yards and seven touchdowns.
“He’s a guy that we felt could do everything,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “He can control the C-gap in the run game. He’s well-coached. He’s real polished in the run game because of the way he was taught at Michigan — his strength, his lower-body strength, his ability to fit combinations. But you don’t realize how fast the guy is. He’s a legit 4.58 guy, and I think there are some things that we’re really excited about that he can bring us from a vertical standpoint of stretching the defense vertically.”
Said Linta: “Some of these guys that are the athletic tight ends are glorified wideouts. I mean, they couldn’t block my wife, some of them. This is a guy that can do all facets of the tight end game. He might not be the best in every category. There might be a bigger guy or a faster guy. But he is one of the most complete guys out there.”
On April 29, Schoonmaker attended a draft party with friends and family.
He regards Linta and Linta’s son Nick, who co-represents him, in the latter category.
Leading up to the day, they told Schoonmaker a third-round selection was realistic, although the second was an outside possibility. As the evening progressed, soon before the Cowboys called, Schoonmaker asked Nick how exactly this would go procedurally.
Nick told him an NFL head coach would probably call Schoonmaker directly.
“Then, I said jokingly, ‘Unless it’s the Cowboys — then Jerry [Jones] will call you,’” Nick said. “That’s exactly what happened, which was so funny.”
Most people in the room didn’t notice when Schoonmaker’s phone rang.
He answered. Standing in a light blue suit, he spoke with the Cowboys owner. Coach Mike McCarthy, Scottenheimer and tight ends coach Lunda Wells followed. Schoonmaker hung up and finally said to the crowd that, by now, had formed: “Cowboys.”
The room thundered in celebration.
He embraced the Lintas first.
“I gave [Nick] the first hug and then [Joe] the second one,” Schoonmaker said. “They were right there. It was so special, and everything did flash before me with [Joe], like everything from high school up until that point, how it all worked out. It hit me then. It was a special moment. …
“He’s just someone that I can rely on, and his son Nick, too, who has become an agent as well. Just two guys that I feel like I can bounce stuff off them and have their trust. It really does feel like family with them for me. It’s a pretty special situation.”