GENEVA – So far this fall, the NFL’s loss has been the Geneva football team’s gain.
The Atlanta Falcons cut former Geneva and Northern Illinois linebacker Pat Schiller at the end of the preseason, and Schiller has filled some of his newfound free time by helping mentor the Vikings’ linebackers in recent weeks, both at practices and during games.
“[Geneva assistant coach Nick Herrera] knew what he was talking about, but then when Schiller came, it was a whole ’nother level of stuff he could teach because he obviously was a professional, so he knew some stuff that a traditional [coach] wouldn’t know,” Geneva junior linebacker Wyatt Shodeen said. “So it was really helpful.”
The Vikings (3-2, 2-1 Upstate Eight Conference River) hope some of Schiller’s teachings continue paying dividends in tonight’s homecoming clash against St. Charles East (4-1, 2-0 UEC River) at Burgess Field.
Schiller, who spent last season with the Falcons’ practice squad, is fresh off a tryout with the Houston Texans. His playing aspirations make his status with the Vikings week-to-week. He said a conversation with Geneva trainer Bill Durand shortly after he was released by Atlanta started the ball rolling, and he joined the team in time for Geneva’s Week 3 game against Batavia.
Schiller said he’s had to “pump the brakes” to make sure he doesn’t overwhelm players with some of the advanced concepts he’s learned in recent years.
“I’ve been away from the high school level for quite a while, and playing five years of Division I college football and a year and a half with the NFL, you kind of forget keeping the main thing, the main thing,” Schiller said. “When you go back and teach [high school players], you have to realize what’s important, starting with just the fundamental things.”
Schiller said he’s been careful to reinforce messages from the Geneva coaches, most of whom are holdovers from his playing days, including head coach Rob Wicinski.
Naturally, several of the Vikings’ coaches have been eager to learn from Schiller, too.
“I learn stuff from them just like they learn stuff from me,” Schiller said. “I’m not sitting here saying they don’t know anything. It’s always good to hear another voice, an outside voice who has heard a bunch of different philosophies. It’s good. It helps keep everyone fresh and on their toes.”
Wicinski said Schiller’s presence has been appreciated, no matter the duration.
“I think just the mentality of the position, how you’ve got to approach it, I’ve seen a difference just in the short time he was here,” Wicinski said.
Coincidentally or not, the Vikings are receiving quality play at linebacker, especially from senior Joe Boenzi (35 tackles, second on team) and Shodeen (32 tackles).
Boenzi played fullback for the Vikings as a junior, but Wicinski said moving him to linebacker this season was in the long-term plans.
Boenzi said he much prefers being in attack mode on defense based on his wiring.
“I’ve always had that little anger inside of me, so it’s just great to bring it out,” Boenzi said.
Shodeen, meanwhile, was not an opening-night starter for the Vikings, but has developed into one of the team’s most pleasant surprises. He grabbed a starting spot when sophomore Stephen Kemp was moved from linebacker to defensive tackle after the Vikings’ win at Oswego.
“It went 10 times better than I hoped,” Shodeen said. “I just wanted to get on the field and play some football, and it turned out great.”
The Vikings’ defense still isn’t what it was in the Schiller days, but that’s a high bar to reach. Schiller, who recently has tried out for the Carolina Panthers in addition to the Texans, trains regularly at ProForce in Batavia, but those workouts are less painful than tuning in to NFL football on Sundays. Especially the Falcons.
“It’s so hard to watch the Falcons play, I’m not going to lie to you,” Schiller said. “It took me a while before I could even do it. All those guys, you’ve got a year and a half invested into a team. When you’re part of a team, you’re part of a brotherhood.”
Schiller’s ties run especially deep in tonight’s game considering he has remained close over the years with former Geneva assistant coach Mike Fields, who now coaches the Saints. Schiller said he’d be happy to help Fields and the Saints down the line if the opportunity comes along.
Fields said Schiller’s willingness to help his alma mater reflects well on Wicinski.
“That says a lot about the program we had back then,” Fields said. “Hopefully, I’ve been able to steal a little bit of that magic and bring it over to East.”