-- The story Brennan Schmidt has heard his father tell time and again took place when Brennan was a newly minted football player about 9 years old -- well before he became a starting defensive end for the Virginia Cavaliers.

The two were in the car that afternoon, headed for the boy's football game with Jerry Kramer, a former NFL star lineman and friend of the family, along for the ride.

Brennan, at this point accustomed to dealing with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, reached from the back seat and tapped his father on the shoulder. "Dad," he said, "don't give me my Ritalin today."

"I looked at him like, 'What's this all about?' " Bob Schmidt recalled. "He said, 'I want to be really crazy out there today.' And Kramer turns to me and he says, 'I like the kid's attitude.' "

That attitude didn't change much as Brennan's AD/HD abated with age and the generous, open-hearted side of his personality blossomed. When it comes to football, the 6-foot-3, 269-pound redshirt junior is as fiery, as tough, as competitive a player as you will find.

"My size isn't the best," he said. "My speed isn't the best. My will is always going to be up there. That's all I really care about."

The application of hard work to relatively modest athletic gifts has been enough to make Schmidt a success at the highest level of college football. Undersized for an end in Virginia's 3-4 defense, the McLean native nevertheless made 87 tackles in each of the past two seasons and last year finished second among ACC defensive lineman with 6.7 tackles per game. Saturday at Temple, he will begin his third consecutive season as a starter, his first as a team captain.

"He has one speed, and that's 100 percent," said Bill McGregor, who coached Schmidt during his All-Met senior season at DeMatha. "If you take a look at him, he's a total overachiever."

Schmidt, 21, was cast in that role early on, as the second youngest of a large family of athletes. In addition to seven biological children, Bob and Patti Schmidt welcomed four other teenagers into their home over the years, raising them to adulthood after they lost their parents. "If somebody had a friend who needed a place," Bob Schmidt said, "we always had a place for them."

Five of the 11 kids became college athletes, including three football players who continued the tradition started when Bob Schmidt and his younger brother, Dennis, played for Southern California.

Football, Brennan Schmidt said, fit especially well with his "crazy personality" as a kid. Anything to channel his seemingly boundless energy into something productive.

"Not that it was so bad," Patti Schmidt said, "but there was a time from when he was about 8 to 12 where I just thought I was going to lose it."

One notably destructive incident began when Brennan interrupted his father in the midst of a business meeting to ask if he could use the bathroom. An explosion soon followed, and smoke billowed out into the office. Brennan had lit a cherry bomb, held it until it exploded and not been harmed in the slightest.

"When you have Attention-Deficit, you don't think of the complications of your conduct until they're over," Bob Schmidt said.

These days Brennan Schmidt only takes AD/HD medication when he needs to concentrate on an exam or a paper. "It was just another challenge," he said, like the exercise-induced asthma that forces him to go through a rather unusual pregame routine with the Cavaliers. Eager to avoid an asthma attack during a game, he induces a "controlled" attack in the presence of team doctors before the game by exercising frenetically.

Once it is under control, Schmidt is set for the next several hours -- free to work to exhaustion chasing quarterbacks, fighting off blockers and swallowing running backs. His intensity, teammates say, is obvious the minute he steps onto the field. But then, he's always been that way.

"It's a continuing pattern in my life of being the underdog or the overlooked guy," Schmidt said. "It motivates me a lot. I kind of like it."