From Burgess Field to Huskie Stadium, Bulldog Stadium to Camp Randall, Kaneland's Peterson Field to the Glass Bowl in Toledo, Patrick Schiller has played on a number of football fields over the course of his football career.
On Monday night, Schiller experienced the thrill of a lifetime from the sidelines inside the Georgia Dome as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.
Schiller, a 2007 graduate of Geneva High School, admittedly has to pinch himself these days as he reflects upon the occurrences of the past month.
"It's crazy but I'm on an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent," said Schiller, who is 1 of 8 players on the Falcons' practice squad.
You better believe it.
While it might seem that way, Schiller didn't exactly come out of nowhere to make it to the National Football League.
At Geneva, Schiller was a 2-way standout for the Vikings, recording 190 tackles and 8 sacks as a middle linebacker while gaining 1,169 yards with 25 touchdown runs and 4 TD catches at running back in 2-plus varsity campaigns.
As a sophomore, Schiller participated in the 2004 Class 6A state semifinals (Geneva lost to Bloomington, 20-7).
Two years later as a senior, he earned all-state honors for coach Rob Wicinski's Vikings, who captured 3 consecutive Western Sun Conference titles from 2004-06.
At Northern Illinois University, Schiller continued his on- and off-the-field excellence.
As a sophomore in 2009, Schiller was the Huskies' third-leading tackler with 82.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder capped his collegiate career with a memorable senior season for the Huskies, who edged Ohio 23-20 in the Mid-American Conference championship clash before beating Arkansas State 38-20 in the GoDaddy.com Bowl last January in Mobile, Ala.
Schiller led the Huskies (11-3) with 115 tackles and 73 assists while adding 10 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups and 2 sacks.
In 48 games, including 27 starts, he finished his 4-year career with 239 tackles -- 19 for loss, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and an interception. He is tied for seventh on the Huskies' all-time list for assisted tackles with 148.
Despite the impressive numbers, the second team All-MAC selection didn't hear his name called during the 3-day NFL Draft held in April.
But that didn't deter Schiller, who was invited as an undrafted free agent to participate in the Falcons' training camp this past summer.
Schiller recorded a pair of tackles in his NFL preseason debut, as the Falcons lost a 31-17 decision to Baltimore.
After the starters received the bulk of the playing time in Week 3 of the preseason against Miami, Schiller made the most of his opportunity a week later, collecting a team-high 8 tackles, including 2 for loss, during Atlanta's 24-14 Week 4 loss at Jacksonville.
"I treated it like it would be the last time I'd ever put on a set of shoulder pads and run out of the tunnel," said Schiller. "I played the whole second half and was pretty confident that from the (game) film alone, I'd be on the practice squad."
On the day of the final cuts (to 53 players), Schiller got a call to a meeting in the coaches' office.
"I met with Coach (Mike) Smith and the GM (Thomas Dimitroff) and they were telling me I had great production and great presence but that they were not sure about the practice squad," said Schiller. "They wished me the best, and I filled out some paperwork and caught a flight back home."
Upon his return to Geneva, Schiller went out to dinner with family members before receiving a phone call from a Falcons executive.
"They told me they wanted to sign me back to the practice squad, so the next day I was on a flight back to Atlanta," said Schiller.
That's quite an emotional roller coaster.
"I was so excited that the Falcons called me back because I know the system, the coaches and the players," he said.
As a practice squad member, Schiller isn't allowed to travel with the team to road games so he admittedly spent Week 1 of the regular season furnishing his 2-bedroom condo while the visiting Falcons knocked off Kansas City, 40-24.
"My family drove my truck down here and helped move me in," said Schiller. "We spent part of Sunday shopping for a TV and then caught the second half of the game at a nearby restaurant."
Schiller spent a great deal of time last week practicing as a scout team player helping prepare the Falcons to face the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos.
"I make my money during the week," said Schiller. "As a scout team player, I try to give our offense the best look at what we're up against that week. I sit in meetings with the other linebackers and break down the other team's offense.
"I also study the techniques of linebackers our team is facing and try to emulate other middle linebackers. If we were playing the Bears, I'd watch Brian Urlacher and study his tendencies."
Schiller, who could be added to another team's 53-man roster at any time, also realizes that there are no sure things in the NFL.
"This is the best job in the world," said Schiller. "But I know I've got to keep working as hard as I possibly can. If you get complacent, you're done. I learned during training camp that this is a business. I don't take the game for granted. That's something I've done throughout my whole career."
At the same time, I can't blame Schiller for being a bit star-struck alongside NFL veterans like Tony Gonzalez, Mike Peterson, and John Abraham, among others.
"I'm the lowest man on the totem pole but I'm on the team," said Schiller. "I may just be a 'rook' (rookie) but I'm sitting in the locker room next to Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent, and Asante Samuel. It doesn't get much better than this."
Schiller, who will turn 24 in November, isn't the only former NIU player with the Falcons. Nine-year veteran running back Michael Turner starred for the Huskies from 2000-03.
"We talk up Northern Illinois," said Schiller. "We like to remind (Falcons receiver) Julio Jones that we're 1-0 lifetime against 'Bama (NIU edged then 21st-ranked Alabama 16-13 in 2003 in Tuscaloosa)."
Schiller also is proud of his high school heritage.
"It's crazy because it doesn't seem that long ago that I was playing for the Vikings at Burgess Field," he said. "Some of my best memories are of playing football at Geneva High School."
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org
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