Rob Sterling is an example of not accepting 'no' for an answer and following your dreams.
The Times 2010 Defensive Player of the Year and three-year starter for T.F. South was overlooked because of his lack of size. At 5-foot-10, 231 pounds, many felt he was too small to play Division I football.
Neither Sterling nor T.F. South coach Tom Padjen were among them.
Sterling walked on at Northern Illinois. Last year as a sophomore, he played in 10 games, mostly on special teams, and started a game at fullback. In the spring, he was told he had a scholarship for the 2013 season.
"It was amazing because I earned that scholarship," Sterling said. "I had some academic scholarships and I earned those too, but to get a football scholarship was special because I had to prove I deserved one.
"I am proud of what I did, but I also have to play hard and show I deserve it."
Padjen never doubted the toughness or size of the fight in his linebacker/offensive lineman.
"He is an example of not letting his dream get sidetracked," Padjen said. "He wanted to prove that he deserved to play at that level and he has. The coaching staff and our entire program are proud of Rob.
"We tried to tell people he could play, but he didn't fit that height and weight criteria. They didn't measure his heart and desire to play Division I football."
Sterling's journey fits the NIU program as it turned the FBS world upside down last year by earning a trip to the Orange Bowl where it gave Florida State a game for three quarters.
Sterling said that magical season was reason enough for he and his Huskies teammates to put in more hard work.
"We know we have that number on our back -- we are the team that went to the Orange Bowl," Sterling said. "Well, nothing is guaranteed for this year. That was last year and what we did was great, but that was last year."
The Huskies have a new coach in Rod Carey as Dave Doeren left for North Carolina State. Carey coached the Huskies in the Orange Bowl. They also return Mount Carmel grad and Times 2008 Offensive Player of the Year in Jordan Lynch.
The senior quarterback broke four NCAA, two Mid-American Conference and 14 program records in making All-America.
The Huskies return most of their offensive line which includes Homewood-Flossmoor grad Aidan Conlon.
"We just have to make sure we come prepared for every game," Sterling said. "Coach Carey is a great guy and he and the coaches do a great job of making sure we are prepared."
At T.F. South, Sterling was an all-state selection and was named to The Times all-decade team (2000s) while still a player.