Pat Schiller knows Miami is nice this time of year, and he hears it’s even better now with a rush of fellow Northern Illinois football alumni in town for tonight’s Orange Bowl.
Regrettably, the linebacker from Geneva won’t be one of them. He’s still sporting red, black and white for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.
Schiller, a practice squad linebacker, explored the idea of zipping to and from south Florida for the game with teammate Michael Turner, a Huskies running back in the early 2000s. Although the Falcons have clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and a bye from the upcoming wild-card weekend, the team still is practicing Wednesday morning, keeping Schiller and Turner at home for NIU’s New Year’s date with Florida State.
“It’s unfortunate,” Schiller said, “but we’ve got to be thankful for the opportunity to be able to still play the game.”
Schiller signed with the Falcons practice squad in September after surviving all the but the final round of training camp cuts with the eventual NFC South champions.
He’s the sixth linebacker on a team that dresses five. Should Atlanta activate him for a playoff game, it would mark the first time he has dressed since preseason.
“There have been a few times where I’ve been approached [preliminarily],” Schiller said. “With injuries, you just never know. It’s a tough job. You don’t want to get comfortable being inactive, because the minute you get comfortable, they activate you and you’re not ready.
“I don’t like to see anybody get hurt, but it is a business. so if one guy goes down, I feel that I can come in right away and be able to fill his shoes.”
Schiller started 27 of the 48 games in which he played during four seasons at NIU. He led the team with 115 tackles in his senior season of 2011 – 10th-best in the Mid-American Conference – and finished with 239 stops in his career.
Playfully asked if there was an NIU bar in Atlanta where he and Turner could watch tonight’s game, Schiller chuckled and said, “They don’t even know what MAC football is down here.”
That might not be hyperbole in SEC country.
Even if he were more than just a year removed from college, Schiller figures he’d still carry the torch for his conference, a nonautomatic BCS qualifier. NIU stunned several national college football analysts with its landmark bid to Miami last month. Schiller was among those listening when ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit opined that the Huskies’ spot in the Orange Bowl was “a joke.”
“We definitely feel that we were kind of disrespected, but that’s kind of the mindset that we have going into NIU anyways,” Schiller said. “You’re an underdog going into the program and not given the opportunity you felt like you deserved out of high school, so a lot of guys already play with a chip on their shoulder, no matter what.”
Schiller was part of bowl teams after each of his collegiate seasons. The Huskies lost to Louisiana Tech (Independence) and South Florida (International) before defeating Fresno State (Humanitarian) and Arkansas State (GoDaddy.com) in the past two winters.
A third straight bowl win tonight arguably would be the biggest victory in program history.
City where the heat is on: While Miami has doubled as the center of Patrick Brown’s universe for the past month, it doesn’t seem there’s been a time when the city was even trivial to his life.
An offensive lineman from St. Charles North and the older brother of Huskies left tackle Ryan Brown, Patrick Brown signed with the Dolphins in early December. His fiancee is from Miami, and both are set to attend tonight’s game.
A few years ago, Brown was visiting Miami when he encountered Chris Browning – head of Batavia-based Pro Force Sports Performance Training – by chance at a bar.
“I met him randomly, we started talking about St. Charles and we’ve been striking up a friendship,” Brown said.
One immediate result: an ongoing training partnership. After the Minnesota Vikings cut him at the end of training camp, Brown stayed in shape with a regular regimen at Pro Force.
“It’s great to have Chris in my corner,” Brown said.
A handful of Huskies, including Ryan Brown, planned to “Train Insane” at Pro Force during NIU’s holiday break from team activity before last week’s flight to Miami.
Browning also helped Schiller prepare for the 2012 NFL Draft combine.
• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or email@example.com.