After Indiana football’s season ended in late November, Peter Schulz took a few weeks off before beginning to prepare for something unlike anything he’d done before.
Schulz was a walk-on offensive lineman for the Hoosiers from 2019-2022. He was never really put into the spotlight.
But he’ll be firmly in the middle of the action on Saturday at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Schulz is riding for Alpha Kappa Psi in the 72nd running of the men’s Little 500.
The senior has no prior competitive cycling experience. He rode a bike to friends’ houses as a kid, and did some longer rides with his dad as he got older, but nothing like this. But after helping the team last year as a student coach, he’s hopping on a bike this year.
“I decided after football’s done, I would try to take it up. It seemed like a really fun event to try and devote myself to after football was done,” Schulz said. “I don’t know any of the terms. I just kind of hopped on the bike and said, ‘Let’s go.’ So yeah, there’s no background.”
Schulz grew up in Franklin, Michigan, and had never heard of Little 500 before coming to IU. And because of COVID-19 impacting the races in 2020 and 2021, last year was his first “normal” Little Five. But he called last year’s experience the coolest thing he’s ever seen.
Schulz, a redshirt junior on IU football’s roster last year, had two more years of NCAA eligibility remaining. But as a walk-on who recognized his football career would progress no further, and being lined up to graduate this spring, he knew going into 2022 that it would be his last season.
He was twice named scout team player of the week in 2019, but only saw the field once in his four seasons, during IU’s season finale against Purdue last fall.
“I had pretty good talent all my life for football. But coming into the Big Ten, obviously the talent level, there’s a huge jump, and I just figured it was probably my time to step away,” Schulz said. “I just wanted to try out different things. I love football. I love playing here. There were a lot of good times, a lot of bad times, but that’s just life. It was a blast. I still hang out with the guys all the time.”
So after taking a few weeks off to reset from football, Schulz dove into Little 500 preparation. The training is a lot different from what he did for football — more cardio, less powerlifting. That was an adjustment for Schulz, but he enjoyed it.
He also had to change his body. Offensive linemen need to maintain weight, but competitive cycling required more of a leaner build. So Schulz adjusted his diet along with the increased cardio. And he saw results quickly.
Schulz weighed around 250 pounds at the end of football season, and he’s now down to around 210. His body fat percentage dropped from 23.5 percent, at its peak, to 10.5 percent.
And then there was the actual cycling training. Little 500 riders train intensively — some work year-round. Schulz and his teammates spent a lot of time working on exchanges, which he said helped them do so well in qualifications — Alpha Kappa Psi placed fourth.
He had to adjust his mentality from football, as well. That, he said, was the hardest part of preparing for the race.
“Every day I want to get out there, and I want to be Lance Armstrong every day. But that’s just not going to happen,” Schulz said. “Also, taking off days was really difficult for me. I always like to go full throttle ahead. So my coach and my teammates got on me a little bit about it.”
Schulz knows what to expect from the atmosphere from being in the pit last year. It’ll be a different experience actually riding this year, but he’s been on the sideline raucous IU football atmospheres at Memorial Stadium, and he’s hoping that makes him more comfortable on Saturday.
He’s received a lot of encouragement from his former football teammates ahead of the race.
“I’ve gotten a lot of nice texts and support. I’m sure a lot of them are coming. They’re all really excited for me, to have someone to cheer on. Coach (Tom) Allen is going to be there, that’s really exciting,” Schulz said. “But yeah, all the coaches and former teammates have been really, really supportive.”
Schulz wanted to avoid setting an overly lofty goal for his team, as anything can happen on race day.
But he knows he’s on a strong team capable of a big day. Alpha Kappa Psi finished 29th last year, but the strong qualification this year could be a sign of things to come.
“I think we have the ability to stick with the front pack and hopefully make it into a spring. If we don’t, we don’t. But either way, we’re going to put our best foot forward,” Schulz said. “We obviously would like to see top five, top 10. But we know the field is incredibly strong. I don’t want to put a number out there, but we expect to be able to compete.”