Schiller the Huskies' man in the middle
Everything about Pat Schiller's persona screams middle linebacker.
The 2007 Geneva High School graduate with the close-cropped hair is big, loud, smart and gung-ho.
When Schiller's playing days are over, he plans to be either a P.E. teacher/high school football coach or a salesman/high school football coach.
As long as his work day gets to end with a whistle around his thick neck, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Schiller will be happy.
"A lot of the greatest people that I've been surrounded by are coaches that have coached me," Schiller said. "And I want to have that same impact on kids that they had on my life."
Two of those "greatest people" -- Northern Illinois linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz and first-year head coach Dave Doeren -- planned for Schiller to spend his final college season as an outside linebacker.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound fifth-year senior finished spring ball as the team's starting "boundary" linebacker.
But with incumbent middle linebacker Devon Butler out for the year because of internal damage from a gunshot wound -- and future standouts Cameron Stingily and Mike Hellams too inexperienced to direct a defense -- Matukewicz and Doeren met with Schiller in the summer.
"They came to me and asked me how I felt about playing middle linebacker," Schiller said.
How did Schiller feel? How do you feel upon returning to a place you've always loved?
Schiller spent his Geneva seasons in the middle and started 13 games there for NIU in 2009.
He moved to the outside in the spring of 2010 -- only to tear his ACL in April and play a minor role in the Huskies' school-record 11-win season.
Now Schiller gets to be in the middle of everything again.
"They felt that would be a good fit for me; to call the shots and make all the play calls," Schiller said. "I just fit the mold, I guess you could say."
Schiller returns to the heart of NIU's defense at a crucial point in the program's ascent.
The Huskies return nine offensive starters from an explosive unit that averaged 38.0 points per game.
On defense, however, the Huskies welcome back just two full-time starters. That's the reason Toledo finished ahead of NIU when the MAC media predicted the West Division race.
Schiller must lead a linebacker corps that has just one man who knows how it feels to start a college game.
Redshirt freshman Jamaal Bass will start on one side and senior Jordan Delegal -- a career backup -- on the other.
"I know everyone wants to talk about what you've lost at certain positions," Doeren said. "As a competitor, I know Pat will tell you that will only bring the fire out in you more.
"They're looking at us as the weak link," Schiller said. "I love that underdog mentality. That's just kind of what my life has been all about.
"I think we're going to shock the world when we go out there and play and they see how talented we really are."