FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Where did Brenden Schooler come from?
Schooler sprinted from a rare outside position to block Jason Sanders’ 49-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter -- a sensational effort on a unique play that had many wondering how he did it and how the special teams scheme came about.
As a result of the play, Schooler’s profile has been raised to a new level -- he's in his second NFL season after attending Oregon, Arizona and finally Texas. A safety/wide receiver in college, Schooler made the Patriots’ roster as an undrafted free agent in 2022 and played exclusively on special teams, where he had a team-high 14 tackles as a rookie.
Some teammates call him “Sunshine” because of the long hair that flows out of the back of his helmet -- a reference to the character in the movie “Remember the Titans.”
“I don’t think I would have come up with that, so it’s a testament to our coaching staff, because when they drew it up and told us what we were doing, I thought to myself, ‘I trust them, but I haven’t ever seen anything like this before,’” Schooler said.
“It was awesome to see the new innovative plays that they come up with, and then to go out there and execute it.”
Schooler’s effort drew respect from players across the league, including Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, whose responsibility on the field goal protection unit was to block him.
“I saw the whole thing developing. He came from distance and he timed it up great,” Wilkins said. “I've never seen anything like that on the football field, and it was just a helluva play … You just tip your hat and you're like, ‘Well, s---.’ I mean, if you're going to block 'em like that, more power to you.'”
Longtime Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater credited the coaches “for seeing what they believed to be a weakness” before adding it was a “tremendous design -- one that we really haven’t seen.”
Slater then saluted the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Schooler.
“The most important piece is you have to have the right guy to execute that, and School’s a guy who has tremendous length, tremendous speed. His ability to bend is phenomenal. And his quickness. I think he’s probably the only guy on the team that can execute that, so we chose the right guy,” he said.
Schooler said before the snap, Slater told him, "You are going to go block this."
The first key was his timing, as he got off to a running start toward the line of scrimmage from where he was standing closest to the Patriots' sideline, outside the numbers marked on the field.
Schooler didn’t reveal if he was focusing on a specific indicator before revving up his engine to take off.
“As soon as the ball was snapped and I felt myself in the momentum, carrying, I just knew I was going to get there,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure I got a hand on the ball, or something where I could stop the ball, and hopefully one of us picked it up.”
Special teams coordinator Cam Achord described how the idea was hatched.
“It’s just outside-the-box thinking, I guess you’d say,” he relayed. “There’s things you’re looking for as the game goes on, whether it’s the snapper, maybe it’s the way a guy is set, a hand movement, a holder’s head. We go through the process and it’s just looking for any keys, details that can give you an edge. It’s not something that every week you’re going to be able to do.
“The normal operation for a field goal unit, from snap to kick, is somewhere between 1.27 and 1.34 [seconds]. So you have to have the acceleration and speed to turn the corner and get to the block point, which is usually about 5 yards in front of the holder.”
Achord also credited safety Kyle Dugger for his rush that occupied Wilkins, which freed things up for Schooler.
“That is a forgotten thing -- if he doesn’t [do that], Wilkins is going to block [Schooler] off the edge. So it’s all the guys trusting it, and believing it’s going to work, and bringing everyone down so we can get off the edge there. [Schooler] just timed it up. It was really good by him coming off the edge and laying out for us.”
Achord added: “Sometimes the best ideas show up at 1 o’clock in the morning when you’re just drawing stuff and doodling.”
Patriots safety Adrian Phillips, now in his 10th NFL season, said the play reminded him of how former New England linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. jumped over the long-snapper to block an extra point in 2015.
“When stuff like that happens, it’s a copycat league, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this around [the NFL] -- like the Eagles with their [QB] sneak situation,” he said. “You see that, and it’s like, ‘That’s’ crazy.’ You also know this is probably going to change the game a little bit.”