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NIU hopefuls await word from NFL teams

Kyle Bursaw —
This year's Northern Illinois senior class, including wide receiver Perez Ashford (from left), tight end Jason Schepler and defensive end Sean Progar (95), is the winningest class in school history.
Taken at Huskie Stadium on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012.
Kyle Bursaw — This year's Northern Illinois senior class, including wide receiver Perez Ashford (from left), tight end Jason Schepler and defensive end Sean Progar (95), is the winningest class in school history. Taken at Huskie Stadium on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012.
NIU's draft picks since 2000

Jason Schepler is ready do whatever an NFL team may ask of him.

The former Sycamore Spartan and Northern Illinois Huskie is used to playing tight end. This summer, he could find himself in an NFL camp as a tight end. He also could see himself as a fullback, or even on the offensive line.

Schepler hopes to get into an NFL camp, even if its as an undrafted free agent, and he’s not really worried about what position he’ll be at.

“I’m willing to do whatever a team wants me to do,” Schepler said. “I’m willing to have this opportunity to get into a camp and show what a team wants me to do.”

Schepler said he weighed 265 pounds when NIU opened the season against Iowa, and 275 at the Mid-American Conference Championship. After the Orange Bowl, he asked his coaches and agent what would be the best possibility for him, and what he heard was the offensive line. Last season, former NIU coach Dave Doeren raved about Schepler’s blocking ability.

So, Schepler has bulked up to 300 pounds and has been drilling as an offensive lineman.

The 2008 Sycamore graduate said he’s been eating at least 4,500 calories a day. For example, he’s been eating things like an omlet with 12 eggs at lunch. He also has been taking care of plenty of chicken breasts and canned tuna.

“That was fun, getting to eat that much,” Schepler joked.

At NIU’s pro day in March, Schepler got the opportunity to work out in front of more than 20 NFL scouts, along with other NIU alumni hoping to get an NFL opportunity, including cornerback Rashaan Melvin, defensive ends Alan Baxter and Sean Progar and receivers Martel Moore and Perez Ashford.

After his pro day workout, Schepler said he thinks he has a chance to get a shot in the NFL.

“I think the moment where I thought this could actually happen was pro day, because I had a really good pro day and was excited after that. ... I was like, this day could actually happen,” he said. “That’s when it kind of started to settle in.”

This weekend, Schepler and the rest of NIU’s hopefuls will play the waiting game. If they aren’t selected, they’ll be ready for the free-agent offers.

Progar and Baxter are in the same position as Schepler. Both were defensive ends at NIU – Baxter was second in the Mid-American Conference with 9.5 sacks, and Progar was third with 8.5, but both could end up being outside linebackers, more likely in a 3-4 system.

Current San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Larry English played defensive end at NIU before being picked 16th overall in 2009 as a linebacker.

After a long offseason full of workouts, Progar is ready to get back on the field. He’s used to finishing up spring football around this time.

“What we do is love to play football, and I haven’t had the opportunity to play in so long,” Progar said. “I just miss being around the team atmosphere.”

At pro day, Baxter said he thought he had a good effort. He also has worked out for the Patriots and participated in the Bears’ local pro day.

Baxter ran an unofficial 4.68 40-yard dash at NIU’s pro day.

“It was good,” he said. “I worked extremely hard for a couple months just for one day, just to let it all out.”

Moore said going into his senior year, if he did what he did in 2011, when he had 747 yards and seven touchdowns, there would be no doubt he could land on an NFL roster. In 2012, Moore didn’t disappoint, catching 75 passes for 1,083 yards and 13 touchdowns. The San Antonio product ended his career second on the school’s all-time list in receiving yards (2,544) and touchdown catches (24).

“You can’t complain about going over 1,000 yards and becoming second (in receiving yards) in history,” Moore said. “It was a great year. Went to a BCS bowl, did a lot of things for the school that made history.”

Moore has worked out for Denver and San Francisco and has visited the Bears, Colts, Seahawks and Texans.

Now, Moore and the rest of NIU’s hopefuls have done all they can control.

With the draft here, it’s the end of a long, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“You dream of it as a kid,” Ashford said. “Going through it now is unbelievable.”

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