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Former NIU walk-on to go out in BCS bowl

DeKALB – Northern Illinois tight end Jason Schepler didn’t have any Division I scholarship offers coming out of Sycamore High School.

He went to some Big Ten camps and had schools in the conference, including Illinois, tell him he could walk on.

Schepler said he wasn’t a huge Huskies fan growing up, but he did watch the team on TV. He was drawn to Jerry Kill’s program at NIU, and decided to stay close to home.

“Kind of the family atmosphere that Coach Kill had over here and how honest he was with his players,” Schepler said. “That’s kind of what attracted me to NIU.”

He earned a coveted scholarship after his freshman season, and Schepler, now in his fifth year, will step on the field for the final time Jan. 1 – in the Orange Bowl, of all games.

Schepler has been key to the Huskies’ strong rushing attack because of his ability to block from the tight end spot.

Joe Tripodi spent the season coaching NIU’s tight ends and fullbacks before moving over to coach the offensive line for the bowl game. Tripodi called Schepler one of the best blockers in the Mid-American Conference, including offensive linemen. The 6-2, 274-pounder led NIU with 58 pancake blocks this season.

“Schep would rather run somebody over than catch a football and score a touchdown,” Tripodi said. “So he takes pride in blocking.”

Off the field, Schepler carries a 3.86 GPA, and graduated last week with a degree in electrical engineering. Schepler is heavily involved in community service work and is a part of NIU’s leadership council, which is voted on by the players.

Tripodi said Schepler isn’t “a man of a ton of words,” but that everyone, including coaches, listens when he speaks.

“For as long as I’ve been around football, I don’t know if I’ve seen a team respect one guy as much as they do him,” Tripodi said.

Last season was supposed to be Schepler’s swan song at NIU. However, he tore his ACL in the spring of 2011 and had to use last season as a redshirt year while recovering.

While on the sideline, he helped coach, and has used it as a learning experience for his final season.

With the Huskies getting ready to finish possibly the best year in school history, Schepler admits the injury may have been a blessing in disguise.

“I think it is. If I wouldn’t have been injured, last year would have been my last year,” he said. “I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be in the Orange Bowl. I learned so much from helping coach the offense last year that now on the field I feel so relaxed out there and I can help out people, and the game’s really slowed down for me.”

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