SYCAMORE - Unlike most recent college graduates, Jason Schepler isn’t looking for a job. A year ago, Schepler thought he might have an engineering job. Then he got a more intriguing offer.
The San Francisco 49ers of the NFL called, asking if he might be interested in a tryout. Although it didn’t quite work out with them, Schepler signed a two-year contract on Dec. 30 to play for the Tennessee Titans.
Born in Woodstock, Schepler grew up in Sycamore, where he excelled in the classroom and in athletics. A three-year varsity starter for the SHS football team, Schepler, 24, was the Spartans’ defensive most valuable player as a senior. A four-year all-conference selection in wrestling, compiling a 42-6 his final year, he also qualified for the state track meet, earning the Daily Chronicle’s 2008 Male Athlete of the Year Award.
As co-captain, Schepler played tight end for the Northern Illinois University football team that played in the 2013 Orange Bowl. Besides leading the Huskies in pancake blocks, he was a second team Academic All-American.
Schepler, whose younger sister Justine was a four-year starter for the NIU volleyball team, graduated from NIU with an electrical engineering degree and a 3.8 GPA. He credits the NIU staff and others with allowing him to work out while pursuing his potential NFL career.
On a visit home, Schepler discussed his pro football career with MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson before flying to Nashville to resume training.
Oleson: Did you think you’d get drafted last year?
Schepler: I was hoping to be drafted in the later rounds. That was at center. I was at 300 pounds. I got a call right before the seventh round from the Jets that, “we’re either going to take you at fullback or go for a safety.” So I got real excited waiting for the Jets. Then ... they ended up taking a fullback, but it wasn’t my name. So I thought that was the end of my NFL chances. Then my agent called and said he hadn’t heard anything so it was probably going to be over.
Oleson: So what happened after you weren’t picked?
Schepler: I figured it was time to move on from football so I set up an interview with an electrical engineering company. But my agent called me three days later, on a Thursday, at 10 at night, and said the 49ers had a tryout ready for me if I wanted it. But it was at tight end. I was like at 290 pounds.
Oleson: Was that awkward?
Schepler: Yeah, because I was ready to play center. So I went out to this camp at 290 pounds, playing tight end, and running routes and things like that. It was a three-day camp. At the end of the third day, Coach (Jim) Harbaugh brought us all together in the meeting room, there were about 30 of us, and told us they already had 89 guys on their 90-man roster. Only one person was going to make it. It might not even be from this camp. After the third practice, Coach Harbaugh said I had made the spot.
Oleson: What was that like?
Schepler: It was awesome. It was so cool because I felt so blessed. I had packed for three days of clothes because I thought I was only going to be out there for the three-day camp. I was out there for like another month, so I had my parents get a box together and ship it out to me. I ended up getting cut by them a month later.
A week later, they called me, one of their fullbacks had gotten hurt so I got called back. From then on, I was with the 49ers all through training camp.
I was released by the 49ers after the fourth preseason game against the Chargers. The day before I was released was stressful because there was nothing scheduled for football. So I had the whole day to think about whether I would be released or stay on the team the next day. I received a phone call at 7 a.m. informing me to bring my playbook and meet with the GM and head coach. I knew after this phone call I would be released. No news is good news in the NFL.
Oleson: Was it difficult working out on your own, knowing that the big call may not come?
Schepler: When I was released I was expecting to be picked up on the 49ers practice squad around week six. Training up to that period was easier because I knew I had something to work towards. However, week six came and I never received a phone call. I continued training throughout the NFL season but some days did seem harder than others because I didn’t know what was going to happen. My family, NIU coaches and players, and the Sycamore High School coaches helped keep me motivated.
Oleson: Did you follow the 49ers?
Schepler: It was tough to watch the games because I know all the guys.
Oleson: But then the Titans contacted you.
Schepler: I was surprised when the Titans called because I didn’t know I was on their radar. My agent does a really good job of getting my name around and I am very excited and thankful for this opportunity with the Tennessee Titans.
Oleson: So what happened after you signed?
Schepler: Since the Titans have a new head coach we were able to start two weeks before other NFL teams that retained their head coaches. We participated in strength and conditioning exercises and also had meetings with our position coaches. It was a great opportunity to meet the players and staff, as well as get accustomed to the practice facility. That was Phase I.
Phase II start(ed) on April 29 with a voluntary mini-camp. The practice facility is located in Nashville, Tenn. Phase II and III consists of actual practices and walk-throughs.
Oleson: Ultimately, does it matter what NFL team you play for?
Schepler: I grew up a Chicago Bears fan, but I am thankful for any opportunity from any team in the NFL.
Oleson: Exciting though it must be, do you treat this as a job?
Schepler: I do treat the NFL as my profession. It is important for me to eat healthy and continue to work on my football skills. The amount of information in the playbook is vast, but I do my best when taking notes to give myself a change to make the team in the fall.
Oleson: Any advice for young players?
Schepler: Enjoy playing the game at whatever level you are in currently. Some guys worry about playing at the next level and lose sight of what’s going on now. Playing at the next level will take care of itself as long as you do your best. You don’t have to be the most talented to be the best at the game. As long as you work hard and give 100 percent effort daily you will go far. A quote I think about daily is this: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”