GREEN BAY – John Schneider has a way with people. His job, right now, is picking out the people to form the best NFL team possible. Doing all right with that, as his Seattle Seahawks get ready for the Super Bowl.
He had that way with people growing up in Northeast Wisconsin as well. A grade school classmate breaks out her 6th grade yearbook, showing the hearts she drew around Schneider, and insisting she not be named in this story.
Those who grew up with Schneider, currently general manager of the Seahawks, say they saw something in him: a way with others, a natural leadership, that have them elated, if not shocked, to see him on their TVs presiding over the NFC champions.
“Can’t say that I’m overly surprised to see John make it to where he is,” said Andy Conard, a friend and former football teammate at Abbot Pennings High School in De Pere. “He was a football guy through and through.”
Schneider was a standout running back for those Abbot Pennings teams. The former quarterback who grew up hanging off to Schneider, Aaron Popkey, is currently a spokesman for the Packers, and remembers a guy who could make you laugh, but also organized offseason workouts and runs for his high school teammates.
“John had a lot of charisma, very charismatic person,” said Popkey. “A guy that knew how to relate to people, even going back to his young age, which is certainly serving him well now.”
Schneider went on to play college football for one season at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. An injury cut his career short, but he turned his attention to another aspect of football. According to his father, Dr. William Schneider, his son John wrote a letter to then-Packers general manager Ron Wolf about his own aspirations to one day run an NFL team. He asked Wolf if he should consider taking business classes. Better than classes, Schneider landed an internship with the Packers.
Schneider’s father, William, who was happy to tell stories about his son but didn’t want to do a formal interview, said his son worked his way to a full-time job with the Packers. He went on to work for the Chiefs, Seahawks and Redskins before ending up back at Lambeau in the Packers front office. In 2010, he got his chance to lead his own team as general manager of the Seahawks.
Schneider’s father says, walking around CenturyLink Field with his son before this season’s playoff games, he saw how John knew seemingly everyone, stadium staff and players alike. Dr. Schneider says John still agonized over cutting players, often staying in touch with them and working to get them other NFL roster spots.
Those who knew John Schneider when he was younger say those qualities had them sure, even growing up, that he’d be a success.
“For John, it’s really his body of work,” said Larry DeCleene, who coached Schneider in middle school football and track. “It’s all the things he’s accomplished. Even when he was a 7th and 8th grader, he was very driven. Fun, but driven.”
“He’s still that same guy he was back in high school, the same way we’ve always known John,” said Conard.
Schneider’s legacy, the impact he left on so many in Wisconsin, has created plenty of Seahawks fans, if temporary ones, deep in the heart of Packers country.
“Parents, classmates, teachers, coaches – to see one of our own get an opportunity like that and make the most of it, it’s really exciting,” said Popkey.
The Seahawks did not respond to a request to interview Schneider for this story. Packers executives who worked with Schneider were not available to talk, either.