Today I had the opportunity to interview Cowboy strong safety Jake Schiffner. Jake is a junior from Calgary, Alberta and was a walk-on to the Cowboy football team. We were introduced by a mutual friend. Jake wanted to talk about life, football, and his membership in the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at UW. Jake has a big week coming up as this is the first Cowboy home game, as well as the beginning of rush week at the fraternity. We talked for about a half hour and this is what Jake had to say:
Brad at WyoNation: So tell me about your trip to Lincoln this past weekend?
Jake Schiffner: We were really focused going into the game. The coaches had us really prepared. The whole overall atmosphere was amazing. It was great to see all of the Wyoming fans who made the trip out. Two of my buddies from my fraternity made the whole 8 hour drive in one sitting to come watch the game. They were excited on the edge of their seat the whole time. The whole weekend was just amazing. More ecstatic. The offense performed really well, so did our defense. We grinded through it.
Brad: What was it like playing in front of 92,000 crazy Husker fans?
Jake: Like a rock concert. I’ve seen Metallica live, and it compares to about to that on 3rd downs. They definitely have a great fan base. It was definitely exciting being in a stadium that large.
Brad: Was that the biggest stadium you’ve played in?
Jake: No, I was in DKR first game last year.
Brad: Do you think this game set the tone for a successful season for you guys?
Jake: Yeah, but I believe we have to approach each week separately. We have to .. last week we played great, but if we “oh, you know, we competed with Nebraska” the whole future isn’t going to turn out the way we want it. So we just have to approach every game fresh and new and prepare for every team like we did Nebraska. If we don’t it’s not going to turn out the way we want it.
Brad: So you guys had practice this morning and now you have Idaho coming on Saturday in front of the home crowd.
Jake: Yep, that’s going to be really exciting.
Brad: What’s your take on Idaho so far?
Jake: I don’t really have much to say right now. I mean, when we played them last season it really came down to the wire. We’re just getting that film in and making sure we have everything sound. We have guys who are bustin’ to make sure that they have the right routes or have the coverages right. We have to approach this game like it’s our own week and we’re only focused on Idaho.
Brad: So you’re one of the few foreign born Cowboys on the team, you’re from Canada. How did you end up in Laramie?
Jake: Growing up I would watch college football always on Saturdays and Thursday nights starting back in junior high and all the way up to high school and ever since then it was my dream to play division one football. The part that motivated me to get down here was the fact that people told me that it couldn’t be done. You’re a Canadian kid, and no one recruits Canadian kids, or picks up Canadian kids and obviously I said I’m going to have to do all of the work. I emailed every division one school and said, “Hey, I’m interested, please give me the opportunity to send my film down” and I probably sent my film to 90% of the division one schools, even FCS, and I remember and I’ll never forget it. I got called by Coach Kaligis we want you to come down here, we want to give you the opportunity to walk-on. I was ecstatic. I just pray every night for somebody to look at my film and see what I got. Wyoming was one of the few.. one of the very very few schools that gave me an opportunity. There was only two other schools, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois but they said you’d have to be a school-start guy, whereas Wyoming gave me the opportunity to come in at the beginning of camp and basically grinding every day. I’m going into my junior year and just hoping to get on that field sometime this season. And I hope it comes pretty quick. It’s definitely, especially being a Canadian playing football, I’m very blessed. I want the opportunity to give back to the team on the field.
Brad: And you’re certainly not the first Canadian Cowboy on the field, you might be familiar with Brock Ralph.
Jake: He actually played in the CFL and as a kid growing up I remember watching CFL games. When I got to UW someone told me he played here. And Corey Mace, played for the Calgary Stampeders, where I’m from. Just hearing about that kind of stuff, it really gives me hope. I watch the movie Rudy and that’s how I feel some days. I’m on scout team and my goal when I go to every game is to make sure that Brett Smith and Dominic Rufran and all of the other receivers and they play a great game and if they don’t I feel like it’s my fault and my responsibility that I didn’t give them a good enough look.
Brad: That’s a good attitude to have. Very team first.
Jake: Yup. I remember when I was in the Canadian Army Cadets and our motto was “mission before self” and that’s the mentality I’ve taken in to everything I do in life in football and my fraternity. If the fraternity needs something, it’s them above myself, and the same with the football team.
Brad: Yup, that’s a good team player. So, are you on scholarship at UW?
Jake: I’ve not been awarded a scholarship yet. That’s one of my goals is to get a good enough look and get on special forces and earn that scholarship. This summer I stayed here, lifted with the team, took classes to show my commitment to winning and excellence that we have here. I hope that it helps my cause. As of right now it depends on how I perform this semester.
Brad: Excellent, that would be great if you could get on scholarship.
Jake: Pretty sure my parents would be ecstatic. It’s just funny.. I’m not really worried.. for me personally it’s not just getting school for free, it’s a symbol. I remember when I was 15 years old, spring break my 10th grade year, my family went to Cuba. Being from Canada we can go to Cuba and I bought a Cuban cigar. And I said I wasn’t going to smoke it until I earned a scholarship. And still today it’s sitting in my mom’s freezer waiting for when I earn it. I was 15 years old then and now I’m 22.
Brad: That’s a terrific goal. So what’s been your most rewarding part of being a Cowboy in your 2+ years with the team?
Jake: I’d say a lot of what the program is based on. When you work you get your rewards. Coach Christensen always says the winners get the goodies and the losers don’t. It takes a lot of work ethic to become a winner. When I was a kid I used to go to the gym every day. Now it’s entrenched in my own personal life. I remember this summer when my classes were over about 1:30 I’d come back to my house and do about 3 hours of homework and it reflected on my grades. I had great grades this summer. And it was attributed to football and being a Cowboy. Just coming here.. the people I’ve met. I’ve lived in the US for about 4 years and it’s been an amazing experience and being a Wyoming Cowboy. Just being a foreign student you never really hear much about Wyoming in Canada. You hear more about California or Florida.. or Texas, places where you can travel for vacation. Being here has even affected back home.. I have family that always comes to Wyoming not only to see me, but to see the state too. The state of Wyoming took me in as one of its own and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
Brad: I suppose there’s a severe lack of poutine to be found as well?
Jake: Actually there’s a bar downtown that has some. I haven’t been down there yet. I’m from the Western part of Canada and that’s more popular on the East Coast. One of my fraternity brothers came to visit last winter and we’d go somewhere to watch the bowl games and he’d always order it. He just loved it.
Brad: You’re a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon. What’s it like balancing life as a college student, football player, and a member of a fraternity?
Jake: I really think that has helped me in my life become very organized. People think that when you join a fraternity your grades drop or it affects your study habits. Our house GPA is above a 3.0 and we have almost 40 members. We have a couple guys who gets 3.8’s or guys who are engineering majors who take really hard classes and struggle and get a 2.4. It helped me. I do football, I do class, I do the gym sometimes and I have my fraternity and we’ll have meetings, or recruiting events, or philanthropy work and when that’s done I do studying and when that’s done that’s when I get my free time. It’s helped me to become very structured. I don’t like when people come in as a freshman and are like, “I don’t have time for that.” I say I’m a varsity athlete, I’m involved heavily in the community, and I still get good grades. You shouldn’t use that as an excuse. It’s helped me become a better student being in a fraternity.
Brad: So you’ve got rush week coming up, what are you looking for in a member?
Jake: With SigEp we’re based on being a balanced man. Being balanced in your body and mind. If we have a guy who is somewhat athletic but is dedicated to school very much, that’s something we look for. We also look for guys who are really athletic but dedicated to studies. When we get to know our new potential members, our cardinal principles are virtue, diligence, and brotherly love. When we hear about a guy when he was in high school and dealt with a lot of hardship and didn’t give up, that says a lot to us. We can make him better and he can make us better. Our creed says that a new member isn’t a finished product, that’s something we take into account when we look at our potential members. If we find a flaw in a member we say we can make him better and he can give back to us. It’s really give and take.
Brad: When you’re looking for new members do you try to look for other student athletes?
Jake: Definitely. In the past we’ve had a few guys interested in our house, certainly like Dominic Rufran and Zach Berg when they were freshmen at the end of their spring semester. We were hoping they would want to join a fraternity and in the end they decided that maybe wasn’t the best decision for them. I totally encourage guys, like athletes, to get involved in Greek life. Each house has its own personality and they might find a house that might fit their personality. It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Brad: Are you the only student athlete in your house?
Jake: I think I’m the only male Greek athlete. I don’t know about the sororities, if they have any athletes in their houses.
Brad: I would have thought that number would be higher.
Jake: Depends on where you go. On the east coast where the fraternities are bigger there are a lot more athletes involved in the fraternities. It’s kind of cool to see guys who are football players and leaders on the field and in their house. Something I like to view myself as, a leadership guy and on the football team.
Brad: How does being a part of SigEp help you as a football player?
Jake: It’s kind of funny because as an athlete you sometimes you go through self-doubt, you have bad days where you’re down on yourself. Guys come into your room, or come talk to you, and really pick you up and give you words of encouragement. Last year a couple guys tried to get a Schiffner chant going in the student section and it caught on a little but died down. Support is the biggest thing I take away from it. I can’t measure that, it’s more of a mental take away than physically. On my bad days it gets me going again.
Brad: That’s all I have on my list of questions.. is there anything you’d like to add or ask?
Jake: Being in a fraternity.. people only see what they see in the media, like Animal House. They don’t see what happens behind closed doors. One of my brothers, this past summer, and past winter drove 16 hours to come visit me. That’s true friendship at its core. I’ve built relationships in SigEp that will last a lifetime. The day I get married one of the guys will be my best man a couple groomsmen. With rush coming up I encourage the student body to get involved in rush. It’s something that you don’t want to look back on regret. One of my mentors told me you could work at McDonalds, quit, and 10 years later that same job is still going to be there. If you never at least take the time and take the chance to join a fraternity you’ll never have that opportunity to again. Same goes with football. For anybody who wants to do anything, follow your dreams even when in college. I’d say as a fraternity we’re very close. One of our brothers.. his father recently passed away and we’re very much a family and it affects every body. You feel terrible when someone goes through that, and that’s when you need that brotherly love and true friendship. I can’t put a price tag on that. It’s something I’m thankful for. If there’s a freshman out there and he’s sitting in his dorm room and he’s on the fence, he should definitely do it. You’re not locked in, you’re not forced to do it. You never know. If you try it out you might decide that you’re super glad you did it. Cowboy football and Sigma Phi Epsilon are the two greatest things in my life so far and I’ll be forever grateful. When I’m graduated from her and down the road I’m going to try to give back to both and be a mentor and give back to anyone that needs advice.
Brad: What do you want to do when you leave UW?
Jake: To be honest, since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to play in the CFL. That’s still something I’m going to shoot for. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. I probably see myself getting a job in the oil industry. A lot of Canadian kids come to UW to get into the petroleum industry. My family’s been working in it for a long time. I’ve got some internships and hopefully get my name out there. I’ve also always had a passion for body building and that’s something I want to try and God willing if I can go pro in that that’s definitely something I’m going to pursue. Most guys that do it are in their prime 26 or 27 years old and I’m sitting here at 22.
Brad: I think I’ve covered everything I want to. Good luck this weekend.