In his fourth year with the Packers, wide receiver Bill Schroeder stands to make a great impact on the club's offensive fortunes
Bill Schroeder is hunting for an identity. Is he the receiver who toiled on the practice squad of the Green Bay Packers in 1994 and 1996? Or is he the receiver who caught 31 passes last season for 457 yards? Whichever role he is to assume, he is taking time to smell the roses along the way.
"Are you kidding me? Playing for the Green Bay Packers is a dream for me. When I was growing up, I used to come to practice just like those kids at the gate do for us now." Schroeder grew up in Eau Claire, and made the journey along Route 29 to watch his heroes ready themselves for the NFL season.
"And now I can't believe I'm on the other side of the gate." Schroeder marvels. Having been on both sides of the gate allows Schroeder to understand where the throngs of people who watch practice come from.
"I don't mind staying a little while after practice to sign a few autographs for some kids because I've been there before. Growing and having people say 'No' to you really hurts, so there are days when I'll stay out there and sign everything until everybody's has had a chance." Schroeder said.
The 1994 sixth round pick from Wisconsin-La Crosse just hopes to keep improving. "In case any of the receivers can't go, I have to know all of the positions well enough that I can be plugged into any position and be able to play."
This situation presented itself last season. When Robert Brooks and Derrick Mayes were both on the inactive list, Schroeder filled in opposite Freeman admirably. This was an opportunity Schroeder was not going to take for granted.
"I didn't earn to start that game in Philadelphia and I didn't earn to be the second receiver. But I have to make myself viable and ready to go in whenever they need me."
His knowledge of the playbook is something that hasn't gone unnoticed by the coaching staff. "One thing that strikes me about Bill," wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett said, "is that he has been injured and had to rehab during the offseason and has been doing well. He helped me with the young kids, teaching them, telling them what to do. One thing that impressed me about that, is that he really did know both (wide receiver) positions. He knows the offense well. That's a tremendous help for him, a plus for him. He doesn't have to think about what to do. He can just perform and use some of those athletic skills that he has."
The excellent skills Baggett is referring to earned Schroeder a scholarship for track and field. "When I was in college, I only played one season of football, I went to college for an education first, of course, and to compete in track and field." He did more than just compete. He won NCAA Division III All-America honors 17 times, won Division III titles in the triple jump in 1992 and the long jump in 1993.
Schroeder hoped to put his athletic skills on display at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney as a decathlete. He was ready to devote the football off-season to training for the decathlon, but the broken collarbone he suffered prevented him.
"So, I guess my going to the Olympics will have to stay on the back burner for now. I haven't ruled it out, but I'm concentrating on football now."
He also combines his athletic ability with his passion for the outdoors when he goes hunting, and just about anything else athletic.
After he was drafted in 1994, Schroeder spent most of the season on the practice squad, until Sterling Sharpe suffered a career ending injury. In 1995, Schroeder was traded to the Patriots with Jeff Wilner for Mike Arthur. Schroeder then broke a bone in his foot and missed the remainder of the season. He spent the 1996 season on the Packers' practice squad after being waived by the Patriots. A season with the Rhein Fire of the World League in 1997 saw Schroeder blossom when he finished second in the league in yards receiving with 702, and second in receptions with 43. His achievements earned him a spot on the All-World League team of 1997.
"My wife (Shelly) is still trying to figure me out. I absolutely love sports. If there is a sport I haven't done, I will try it." Schroeder said. "Every year I try to get out deer hunting, just seeing the animals, catching and releasing them. That's what it is all about."
He may "catch and release" when hunting and fishing, but when Bill Schroeder catches a break on the football field, you better believe he is not going to release it.