From locker room to dark room footballer finds new life in photography

From locker room to dark room footballer finds new life in photography
Ty Schmitt turns to landscape photography after a back injury cut his NFL career before it could start. Schmitt’s photography will be on exhibit at Bliss 101 in Encinitas. Photo by Courtesy photo

ENCINITAS — The more Ty Schmitt played football, the more serious he became about the sport — always in the weight room and constantly eating to put on pounds enough to compete with the bigger players.

“It kind of takes over your life in a sense,” Schmitt said. “It defines you as a person.”

Having started playing as a young child, Schmitt didn’t really know anything different from it.

As he progressed through high school the game took over more of his focus.

He’d had thoughts of playing linebacker for whichever college would have him. But, instead, Schmitt received several offers from colleges, including San Diego State University, to become a long snapper.  Schmitt seized the opportunity to leave his hometown of Phoenix, Ariz., and come to San Diego.

As an Aztec, Schmitt never missed a game and his skills as a long snapper were being touted as “irreplaceable.”

Despite his skills, there were naysayers though, telling him he wouldn’t be drafted by an NFL team — that long snappers never get drafted.

Those messages only served as motivation for him and come the 2008 NFL draft, Schmitt was chosen 23rd in the sixth round (189th overall).

At that time, it was the highest a long snapper had ever been selected in the draft and was the first time the Seahawks drafted that position in the organization’s history.

It seemed all but certain for Schmitt that he was on the road to having a long, distinguished career in the league.

However, during training camp, Schmitt suffered two herniated disks in his back, which would require multiple surgeries to fix. He spent his entire rookie season on the team’s injury reserve list.

Even after his first rehab effort, Schmitt wasn’t able to gain the weight back he needed to perform in the league.

The Seahawks would ultimately release him the following year.

He attempted one more comeback effort to play professionally in the sport he’d been a part of since he was 5 years old, but after another back surgery and tearing a pectoral muscle, he knew his window was gone.

“After two more surgeries, I said, ‘this is a sign. This is it,’” he said.

He never got to start or appear in an NFL game.

That would leave Schmitt in a bad way, falling into a deep depression and a time period where everything just went wrong for him, he said.

It was a loss of identity, he explained, the end of a relationship with his girlfriend at the time, and the hurting both physically and emotionally, that created the perfect storm.

Schmitt had no backup plan to a life without football.

But after just one five-hour session with a hypnotherapist in Scottsdale, Ariz., Schmitt began finding a way to right the ship. He described the session as a delving deep within himself to find what it was he truly wanted to do with his life.

“I was open to everything, and that’s when I found landscape photography,” Schmitt said. “It just popped at me and I didn’t second guess it. I just trusted it. And ever since that day, I picked up a camera and just started traveling.”

On Saturday, Schmitt will have his works on exhibit to the public for the first time ever at Bliss 101 in Encinitas.

As a self-described “mid-wife” to local artists, Helen Zeldes, owner of Bliss 101, said showcasing Schmitt’s work fit within her idea of helping to promote and give artists an opportunity to get their works out to the community.

Zeldes had heard about Schmitt’s work through employees of hers. And one day, Schmitt came in with some of his photos to show. She said she was just blown away by them.

“Sharing local art helps people feel part of the community,” Zeldes said.

Schmitt, a La Jolla resident, said it was crazy to see his new dream come into the physical world, especially as a self-taught photographer.

That transition from football player to photographer wasn’t easy one, he tempered, but now he feels like a completely different person.

“I knew through the NFL, what it took to be the best,” Schmitt said. “So I felt like I had a little jump. So once I started getting into photography I immediately started hanging out with the best … landscape photographers and learned from the best right away.”

Schmitt said he’s always looking to do something better in his work. “You’re never completely satisfied with a photo,” he said.

Schmitt will be at Bliss 101, 553 S. Coast Highway 101, Nov. 21 from 5 to 9 p.m. Call (760) 487-1900 or visit Bliss 101’s Facebook page to RSVP.

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