Not a Kid Anymore

It seems like only yesterday. 1994. A skinny, wide-eyed kid from Sheboygan and UW-La Crosse shows up in Green Bay with big dreams. Dreams of defying the odds and making it as an NFL wide receiver with the Packers, the team he followed and idolized as a child. The "Sheboygan Streak" (his nickname since his days as a high school and collegiate track star) was ready to make his mark. His was a warm and fuzzy Cinderella story if ever there was one.

But the rise of William Fredrich Schroeder from the ranks of "local boy does good" to starting Packer receiver has been anything but a fairy tale. It's been, flat out, a lot of hard work. Sweat. Persistence. An attitude of ‘can't quit, no-matter-what.'

2001 marks Schroeder's sixth official season in the NFL, his fifth with the Packers including being the starter opposite Antonio Freeman the last two years. Don't look now, but the "kid" is now one of the senior citizens of the receiving corps, a player that some of the younger guys will be looking to for leadership.

"I remember when I was a rookie coming into the league there were some guys that were 28 and 29 years old," Schroeder recalls with a chuckle. "I was like, ‘Man, those guys are old!' Now that I'm 30, these guys are calling me ‘Grandpa' and stuff like that. I take it kind of funny. It's like, ‘Wow! I have a one-year-old daughter and they're calling me grandpa!"

If anything, Schroeder is a realist. He knows that, once again, he'll have plenty of challenges to turn back in order to keep his claim on the starting job. Those challenges have names – Robert Ferguson. Corey Bradford. Charles Lee. Donald Driver. Schroeder just takes it all in that big, easy stride of his.

"There's competition every year," he says. "Ron Wolf and the coaches we've always had have tried to make it a very productive wide receiver corps and they have every year. Unfortunately, there have been some injuries each year that have hurt our depth but you always have the younger guys who come in and step it up. I think this year's going to be no different. It's going to be another good challenge for everybody and it pushes everybody to be a whole lot better."

Schroeder knows plenty about the long, rocky road to cutting it in the NFL. After spending his rookie season on the practice squad, he was traded to New England in '95 where he promptly suffered a broken bone in his foot during the preseason and spent the year on injured reserve. 1996 started off no better, with the Patriots waiving Schroeder during the preseason. Once again, he landed in Green Bay, signing with the practice squad where he spent the entire season.

After enjoying a standout 1997 season in the summer World League, Schroeder finally got his chance on Packer special teams, returning punts and kickoffs and getting spot duty at wide receiver. But despite his determination and blazing speed, he was plagued by mental mistakes. Fumbles. Dropped passes. Getting flagged for an illegal block in the back on special teams, something that drew the unbridled wrath of Coach Mike Holmgren before a nationwide Monday Night Football audience in a game against the Vikings. That particular incident was definitely a low point for Schroeder and there were many who thought his days in Green Bay might soon be over.

Guess again.

A regular in the Packers' offseason workout program, Schroeder has spent many hours sharpening his receiving skills, working on his timing and running his pass routes. Most of all, he's labored at his conditioning. He wants to be the very best receiver he can be and all the hard work has been paying off.

In 1999, Schroeder became only the seventh receiver in Packer history to have caught 1,000 yards worth of passes in one season. In doing so, he joined a heady group that includes Don Hutson, Billy Howton, James Lofton, Sterling Sharpe, Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks. Last year, he came within an eyelash of doing it again, finishing with 999 yards. He enters this season with 172 career receptions for 2,517 yards and stands at the threshold of cracking Green Bay's all-time top 20 receivers list.

"You can see the improvement in him each year," says Packer wide receivers coach Ray Sherman. "I saw before I got here that he had all the tools. Then last year I was able to watch him grow. He was able to make some big plays for us. Plus, he has excellent hands. He's really improved his route running – getting more consistent in his route running – which is a big plus. He's also a hard worker. He gives you everything he has on the practice field."

Count Bill Schroeder among those who can't wait for the 2001 season to begin. He likes the team and its chances of getting into the playoffs and doing some serious damage. It all starts with leadership from the top.

"I think the reason why is that Mike Sherman came in last year and he didn't go in and make a lot of promises. He just went in and said he was going to do certain things to change the team around and he did. I think fans and people in the organization can see how much of a person he is. He wants to win. He's a true leader and I don't know of one person on the team that doesn't respect him. He is just a great man, a great coach and a super person to play for."

What's more, Schroeder says he's comfortable with the changes in strategy that the coaches are putting in.

"The coaches are adding new things offensively and defensively," Schroeder contends. "I think Coach (Frank) Novak on special teams is going to be adding some new twists as well. You know, the whole coaching staff was new last year. Bringing in a new coaching staff, you don't want to bring in everything. You want to make sure things work and get the basics down. I'd say having a team go 9-7 with a brand new coaching staff is exceptional.

"I think the way we finished last year and with the things we have added in minicamps will just make this season much, much better. Granted, we've got a tough schedule but I think that will just make us better as a team."

Schroeder obviously has done a lot of maturing since early years with the Packers. But one thing has definitely not changed: his appreciation for what the Green Bay Packers are all about.

"If you grow up being a fan of the Green Bay Packers, you know what the tradition is. It's just the greatest thing to be a part of in the history of sports. Everybody wants to go see a game at Lambeau Field. To me, it's the greatest thing. I've always wanted to be a Green Bay Packer growing up as a kid. Now that I'm finally here and you're a part of the team, you really can't describe how great a feeling it is."

It's a feeling that Bill Schroeder plans to hang onto as long as he can.

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