Jeff Obradovich wears his favorite jersey Sundays as he goes to bars in suburban Chicago to watch football, the sport he loves to coach.
The 47-year-old will slide up to the bar to order drinks, a craft beer for him and a white wine or sangria for his wife Joan. His South Side accent is thicker than a deep dish pizza crust.
And, it’s invariably why someone will turn to him and ask the question: “Why are you two wearing Chargers jerseys?”
“It makes my Sundays a lot more exciting,” he said.
Instead of watching the Chicago Bears scuffle their way through a rebuild, Obradovich gets to watch the Chargers, a team that features reserve linemen Michael Schofield and Dan Feeney.
They are his kids, players he drilled and coached at Carl Sandburg High in Orland Park, Ill., before they went on to careers in the NFL.
“This,” he said, ”is the coolest thing ever.”
And when he’s at the bars or with his friends, it’s a story he loves to tell.
Feeney and Schofield think it’s pretty cool, too, two players from the same hometown, from the same high school, coached by the same offensive line coach, together as teammates for the first time in an NFL locker room.
“We always talk about it,” Feeney said. “OB would love this right now.”
Schofield, who the team added before the season after he was released by Denver, was a bit of a late bloomer in high school, Obradovich said. After his freshman year, he started to grow and by the time his sophomore season had ended, Schofield was practicing with the varsity team. Three years late, the Sandburg coaches did the same thing with Feeney.
Chargers offensive linemen (left to right) Kenny Wiggins, Michael Schofield and Spencer Pulley on the field during action against the Chiefs at StubHub Center on Sept. 24. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
“Those guys, when they came up, I did one of those looks,” Obradovich said. “I looked at the other coaches and was like, ‘These guys are going to be good.’ ”
They were good enough to play Big Ten Conference football, Schofield at Michigan and Feeney at Indiana. Schofield, who was a senior at Sandburg when Feeney was a freshman, became a bit of a role model for his future teammate.
“Seeing him go through it, it was like, ‘Why can’t I do it?’ He was always a guy I looked up to. He’s gone through it, he had the Division I offer from Michigan. He’s starting. He’s doing all of that,” Feeney said. “Geez, I want to do all that too. It keeps you motivated, keeps you chasing something.”
That they ended up in the NFL is an improbability, though not an impossibility. Some high schools produce NFL players regularly. But two guys from Sandburg, a school that has only occasionally produced NFL talent, joining the league? Those odds are much longer.
When Schofield was waived by Denver and claimed by the Chargers, an ecstatic Obradovich, who coaches at Stagg High in Palos Hills, a Chicago suburb, texted his former colleagues. Then a bigger dream came into focus.
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“When Mike got picked up by the Chargers, I was in shock. I was talking to my wife, and she was like, ‘This is just unbelievable,’ ” Obradovich said. “And I told her, ‘Joan, they could be playing next to each other. In the NFL. Two of our linemen.”
It happened Sunday in Oakland.
An injury to starting right tackle Joe Barksdale and the desire to rotate Feeney, the team’s third-round draft pick, put the two together on the right side of the offensive line on the Chargers’ first drive of the fourth quarter.
On the first snap, the two slanted their blocks in sync, Feeney at guard and Schofield at tackle, helping set up a play-action pass to tight end Hunter Henry.
On the next play, Schofield got just enough of a blitzing linebacker to buy Philip Rivers the time needed to complete a throw to Tyrell Williams. Three plays later on a big third down, the two worked in tandem, with Schofield leaving his assignment to pick up a blitz and Feeney sliding over to cover for him. Rivers comfortably found rookie Mike Williams for a first down.
On the last play of the drive, Feeney sprinted off his initial block to set up a screen for Melvin Gordon, clearing the way for a touchdown as Schofield threw his hands up in celebration on the back side of the play.
“After, we talked about it a little bit,” Schofield said. “It was pretty cool. We both came from Orland Park and we’re both here.”
“It’s pretty crazy,” Feeney said with a laugh.
Halfway across the country, their former coach is enjoying it as much, if not more. . He still sends both players text messages. Once his season ends, he hopes to get a chance to celebrate the achievement with his two prized pupils.
“I still look at them as my kids that I coached. … It would definitely be a dream to go out and watch those guys. I couldn’t think of a better story,” he said.
And if he gets the chance to see Schofield and Feeney wear the same uniform for the same team on the same offensive line, he knows exactly what jerseys to pack.