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Schillinger parlays small town hope into big league reality


Flowery Branch, Ga. --Shann Schillinger doesn't want Montana Grizzlies fans to know it, but he's named after a player from in-state rival Montana State.

When Schillinger's mother was pregnant with him, she and her husband were watching a Montana-Montana State basketball game. Shann Ferch was a standout performer for the Montana State Bobcats and the name was just unique enough to catch the attention of Shann's parents.

The name stuck, and a Grizzly was named after a Bobcat.

Fast forward 23 years, and that Grizzly is now an Atlanta Falcon.

What's almost as unique as his name is that he's not the only Grizzly currently on the Falcons' roster.

In 2008 Atlanta General Manager Thomas Dimitroff selected Kroy Biermann, a virtual unknown defensive end from often overlooked Football Championship Subdivision Montana. Biermann brought his trademark high-energy play to Atlanta and quickly won over the fans and perhaps influenced Dimitroff to return to The Treasure State to seek out another gem to polish.

Schillinger wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, but he impressed scouts with a similar Biermann-style enthusiasm for football at the Texas vs. the Nation all star game.

Dimitroff was so impressed that he selected the safety in the sixth round of the 2010 draft.

The 6', 202-pound Schillinger is quick to point out that every player from Montana doesn't play like he and Biermann. But he does believe they teach a certain style of football at the FCS program.

It's a style that fits well with the current Falcons regime as well.

"It's football," said Schillinger following the team's first rookie minicamp practice on Monday. "There's only one way to play it and that's play it hard. All out. That's kind of the way we were taught in Montana. That's the way Coach Smith teaches it here. It's a good fit for us. Be disciplined and play hard and everything should fall into place."

But he'll also admit that he knows he's a long way from home. He's already noticed the traffic in Atlanta, easily the largest city he's ever resided.

Hailing from the town of Baker, a farming town of just under 2,000 people, the 2009 All Big Sky First Team performer has relied on Biermann's support as he transitions, on and off the field.

"It's been very beneficial," said Schillinger. "Every little question I have that comes up I've asked him and he's been so helpful. Particularly on the special teams stuff because it's something that we both do that's similar. He plays a little bit different position than I do, but I'm very grateful to him. All the coaches are very helpful as well and I'm honored to learn from these guys."

He says everything with a smile, portraying a humbleness and appreciation for opportunity often associated with small-town star athletes. Unlike his Montana teammate, Schillinger's high school played traditional 11-on-11 football, but just barely.

His high school was in the smallest 11-man division in the state and made the cut by a small margin.

Now in Atlanta he relishes the chance to continue his football-playing career and has disregarded the potential culture shock to recognize the opportunity before him. He's approaching it with the same enthusiasm he carries with him when he steps on the football field.

"Coming to Atlanta is very different," he said. "It's something that is exciting to me to do this. I've never really lived in a city like this. It's a great learning process and something that I'll never forget."

For the time being getting to know his new city will have to wait. In the first few months of his NFL career he's trying to get to know his teammates and absorb the playbook as quickly as he can. He knows mistakes will happen, but he wants his hallmark to be disciplined play, as it was in college.

Following his first rookie-only practice, Schillinger's perfectionist streak manifested itself in the form of frustration.

"I need to learn from this and try not to make these same mistakes twice -- which I did a couple of times today -- which is unacceptable," the rookie said.

All you need to know about Schillinger is that he said this with a smile--a smile you often see from a man who says what he means and does what he says. Mistake-free football will go a long way to helping Baker's favorite son become the second Grizzly to earn his Falcons' wings.

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