The summer before his senior year at Geneva High School, middle linebacker Pat Schiller traveled to most Midwestern universities that held prospect camps.
Illinois. Indiana. Wisconsin. A slew of Mid-American Conference schools.
In this era of college football recruiting, it's the best way for moderate and borderline recruits to earn scholarships. Coaches want to see who stands out in head-to-head matchups and offer advice (and full rides) accordingly.
"They would say, 'You're a step too slow; you're an inch too short,' " Schiller said. "And I'm just like, 'Let's put some pads on and let's see what I can do.'
"The only camp I went to that had full pads was Eastern Illinois. And that's the only scholarship (offer) I got."
Two weeks before Schiller expected to sign his letter of intent to play for EIU, which plays at the Football Championship Series level, Northern Illinois lost a commitment from a linebacker and offered that spot to Schiller.
The intense youngster accepted immediately and become one of the final pieces of Joe Novak's final recruiting class at NIU.
From his hair (closely cropped) to his new jersey number (53 to honor NIU predecessor Tim McCarthy and longtime NFL wildman Bill Romanowski), Schiller radiates the aura of a young man who has something to prove at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
"He's that 'controlled rage' sort of guy," senior center Eddie Adamski said. "He loves football; I'll just leave it at that."
"I turn on a different switch when I'm playing," said Schiller, who boasts a 3.179 GPA. "As soon as I put the pads on - I just get angry when I play. Ever since I first strapped it up when I was in fourth grade, I've always been out to punish the people I play."
Saturday's opener at Wisconsin will mark the first career start for the redshirt sophomore. Schiller represents the next generation of Huskies who are being asked to prove themselves now.
Of NIU's 27 potential starters listed on the depth chart posted Sunday - the Huskies list 13 offensive positions and there are with three "either/or" battles on that side of the ball - nine will make either their first or second career start in the Wisconsin game.
Thanks to graduations and injuries, the 11 projected defensive starters combined for a grand total of 30 starts last season.
Free safety David Bryant, a potential NFL pick, and outside linebackers Alex Kube and Cory Hanson are the only regulars from last year's group that finished 14th nationally in scoring defense (18.0 ppg).
"We have a young team," said second-year coach Jerry Kill. "I mean, very young. My biggest concern of the year is, Are we going to have enough depth? We've got to create some depth."
Northern Illinois found some depth on the offensive side of the ball during fall camp.
True freshmen wideouts Martel Moore and Perez Ashford pushed their way on the two-deep by catching everything thrown their way.
Sophomore Me'co Brown (510 yards, 2 TDs) and junior Chad Spann (429 yards, 8 TDs) pushed each other in the tailback battle, while senior Justin Anderson (1,245 yards in 2007) fought his way back on the depth chart after a forgettable 2008.
Kill hopes his tailbacks perform well enough that sophomore quarterback Chandler Harnish doesn't lead NIU in rushing again. Perhaps someone such as true freshman Antoine Kirkland, plucked out of Boca Raton, Fla., will contribute as well?
"We're just looking for a playmaker or two," Kill said. "We need to take some pressure off Chandler Harnish. He had to do way too many things last year, way too many things."
QB 12 Chandler Harnish So.
TB 8 Me'co Brown So.
FB 34 Kyle Skarb Jr.
WR 10 Willie Clark So.
WR 80 Landon Cox Jr.
TE 87 Jason Schepler So.
LT 62 Trevor Olson So.
LG 65 Jason Onyebuagu Sr.
C 50 Eddie Adamski Sr.
RG 72 Joe Pawlak So.
RT 61 Panan Tense Jr.
LE 56 Brandon Bice Sr.
NT 92 Brian Lawson r-Fr.
DT 98 D.J. Pirkle Jr.
RE 54 Jake Coffman Jr.
SLB 37 Alex Kube Jr.
MLB 53 Pat Schiller So.
WLB 26 Cory Hanson Sr.
CB 33 Patrick George Jr.
CB 23 Kiaree Daniels Jr.
FS 4 David Bryant Sr.
SS 25 Tracy Wilson So.
K 16 Mike Salerno Sr.
P 49 Josh Wilber Jr.
KO 16 Mike Salerno Sr.
KR 20 Tommy Davis r-Fr.
PR 20 Tommy Davis r-Fr.