Northern Illinois offensive tackle Trevor Olson and fullback Cameron Bell have signed free agent contracts with Tampa Bay and San Francisco, respectively, to bring the number of Huskie football players to sign NFL free agent contracts this year to five.
Olson (Richfield, Minn./Richfield) and Bell (Round Rock, Texas/Stony Point) join wide receiver Nathan Palmer (Elkhart, Ind./Central), center Scott Wedige (Elkhorn, Wis./Elkhorn Area) and linebacker Pat Schiller (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) who agreed to terms with NFL teams on Saturday night following the conclusion of the draft.
Palmer, like Bell, signed with the San Francisco 49ers. Wedige will be in camp with the Arizona Cardinals, while Schiller will join the Atlanta Falcons.
A third team All-Mid-American Conference selection by league coaches in 2011, Palmer led the Huskies in receptions with 47 for 695 yards and caught seven touchdown passes in 2011. He totaled 1,575 receiving yards on 93 catches in his Huskie career.
Palmer began his career at NIU with a 170-yard performance in the 2008 season opener at Minnesota, a career high, and earned MVP honors in the 2011 MAC Championship after catching four passes for 115 yards, including two touchdowns. He made a career-high three touchdown receptions at Toledo, tallying a season-high 120 receiving yards, in NIU’s 63-60 win.
“I got a great opportunity,” Palmer said. “It was an opportunity I was prepared for because they invited me out to San Francisco. I’m glad we could make it happen. Their receiving corps is established. They have a lot of veteran guys.
“I’m going in trying to make the team. Being undrafted, I’m kind of hungry. I want to show a lot of teams that you passed on me and I should have been picked.”
Palmer won’t be going to San Francisco alone as he and Bell will both be looking to make the Niners’ roster.
“It’s always good to go out to a new place, but it’s even better when you have somebody you’re familiar with,” Palmer said.
Bell, who transferred to NIU in 2009, played in 20 games for the Huskies. He rushed for a career-high 228 yards on 39 carries in 2010. He moved to fullback in 2011 and played in 12 games, rushing for 18 yards on seven carries. Bell had a career-high 82 yards rushing against Central Michigan on Oct. 23, 2010.
A consensus first team All-MAC player and a second team All-American selection by CBSSports.com, Wedige started 28 straight games for the Huskies at center. He earned co-Offensive Lineman of the Year award from the NIU coaching staff and the Huskies posted a 22-6 record with Wedige as the center.
Another vital member of NIU’s highly decorated offense, Olson was a four-year, 54-game starter at left tackle, and set the school record for most games played in a career. Also a consensus first team All-MAC selection, he was named fourth team All-American by Phil Steele.
Olson joined Wedige as NIU’s co-Offensive Lineman of the Year.
Wedige and Olson helped pave the way for an offensive unit that broke 12 single season school records and ranked in the five in the conference in eight different statistical categories in 2011. They were key members of an offensive line that allowed 12 sacks in 14 games to rank 10th in the country for fewest sacks allowed.
The only Huskie defender to sign a free agent contract, Schiller tallied a career-high 115 tackles his senior season as the Huskies’ starting middle linebacker. He also set career highs in sacks with two and tackles for loss with 10.
Schiller played 50 games for the Huskies in his four-year career and tallied 239 tackles, 19 for loss. A second team All-MAC honoree by Phil Steele, he was selected NIU Linebacker of the Year by the Huskie coaching staff. Schiller recorded a season-high 11 tackles three times in 2011 and made a career-high 12 stops versus Ball State in 2009.
“It’s always nice to know people know about you,” Schiller said. “Coming from a situation like mine, where I didn’t have a strong junior year because of my injury, and not getting as much press as some people do, it’s nice to know there are teams out there that recognize you for what you’ve been able to accomplish in just one year.
“As soon as I realized teams were interested, that definitely gave me some confidence that I could do this. It just felt good to be wanted. I knew the Falcons were interested. When my agent called and said they finalized the deal, I was just really excited.”
One more former Huskie could be added to the list of free agent signees as wide receiver Willie Clark was invited to the Chicago Bears’ mini-camp, which will be held next week at Halas Hall. If he impresses the Bears coaching staff, the Roselle, Ill. native could sign a contract after mini-camp.
Clark, who led the Huskies in receiving in 2010 with 42 catches for 602 yards, came on strong down the stretch for the Huskies in 2011. Of his 18 receptions for 292 yards in 2011, 13 catches and 238 yards came during conference play. Clark leaves NIU with 12 career touchdowns, including a career-high seven during the 2010 campaign.
Former NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish (Bulffton, Ind./Norwell), who was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts with the 253rd and final pick to earn the title “Mr. Irrelevant,” reports to Colts’ mini-camp Thursday.