Home football game gives Franklin College a chance to tell Nick Schultz’s story

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Former Franklin College football player Nick Schultz, a Merrillville Police Officer killed in the line of duty, was remembered at the Grizzlies' home opener.

FRANKLIN – There is no college course quite as tough as the one which many are going through at a college about 20 miles south of Indianapolis.

But it’s one that Kerry Prather has watched student reluctantly take over the past week.

“Being a teaching institution we feel like everything that happens has a teachable moment to it,” said the Franklin College athletic director–and that moment came on Sept. 5.

While checking out a call for an evicted tenant who had moved back into his condo, Merrillville police officer Nick Schultz was shot in the head by 33-year-old Michael Hrnciar. He was taken to a Chicago-area hospital where he died just two days later at the age of 24.

Schultz became an officer following his education at Franklin College, where he majored in sociology and criminal justice while playing a significant role on the Grizzlies football team.

For a tight-knit school of just over 1,000 students, a crash course in life was taught over a week.

“We’ve had a chance to talk with all of the kids, valuing the experience that you have right now because you literally don’t know how long it’s going to last, what’s going to happen tomorrow,” said Prather.

While this education has been for the student--and especially the football team which Schultz was a captain during his senior season in 2012--it's also been a chance to engage a collection of people on Schultz. Many curious to find the backstory of this officer killed in the line of duty will find many willing educators wearing Grizzly Gold and Blue.

"It's also given us a chance to really celebrate and appreciate what an impact Nick had here on campus," said Prather.

A big part of that was Franklin's home opener Saturday afternoon at Faught Stadium where the Grizzlies hosted Division III No. 1 Wisconsin-Whitewater on a cloudless day. Programs handed out before the game featured a picture of Schultz in a three-point stance for a photo shoot with his No. 79 road jersey on.

Once inside fans caught a glimpse of a helmet and a road No. 79 jersey that rested on the offensive bench on the Grizzlies' sideline nearest to the grandstands at Faught Stadium.

Replacing the traditional Franklin seal on the left side of the players helmet was one that read "SCHULTZ 79." All of those helmets were off during a moment of silence before the game.

"The outpouring of support has been rewarding," said Prather, who has a lot to say about Schultz' time at Franklin.

Arriving from Lowell High School in Northwest Indiana in 2009, he made the switch from offense to defense early in his career. He worked his way up to the starting guard position on offense and enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2012. As a senior, he helped Franklin's offense to a 40-point-per-game average and a Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship, which included a playoff victory at Adrian.

Prather remembers Schultz leading that season more with the way he played than an overpowering voice.

"A very good football player and a good student, but more importantly a good man," said Prather of Schultz. "Very humble, more quiet, a leader by example on the football team but elected captain by his teammates so obviously he enjoyed their respect and he did the respect of the coaching staff and the faculty."

Trying to get that out whether through word of mouth or social media helped to bring out one person to pay their respects to Schultz on Saturday. Colts long snapper Matt Overton heard of Schultz's story through Twitter and arrived at the game with a No. 79 Colts jersey that was presented to Prather between the first and second quarters of Saturday's game.

"The things that I've read it sounds like he was a guy that was very humble servant and a guy that works hard, a team captain out here for the Grizzlies," said Overton, who felt a personal connection to the tragedy since many of his family members are in law enforcement. "It's just very sad and anyone who serves in their community it just shows the kind of character that they have."

Expect to see that on the final exam of this most difficult of Franklin College courses.