When the Bears kick off their 2020 season Sunday in Detroit, at least two pass-catchers on the other side of the line of scrimmage can say they got in their off-season reps thanks to an inventor and entrepreneur from Elk Grove Village.
Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson and wide receiver Danny Amendola are among the NFL stars to use The Seeker, a "robotic quarterback" that can launch as many as six footballs in nine seconds to a receiver's precise position on the field.
It's the creation of 2008 Elk Grove High School graduate Igor Karlicic and business partner Bhargav Maganti, who met as mechanical engineering students at Northwestern University and later started working on the passing machine as a side project in 2014.
They say their product is much more technologically advanced than a traditional passing machine, which has been around for decades. Their robot can track a player's movement and throw to where he is going; the player wears a small device the size of a pager that communicates with the machine.
The technology also has allowed a number of NFL players to train on their own amid the pandemic. Karlicic and Maganti have taken to calling their machine the "quarantine quarterback."
"We had huge reaction when COVID struck," Karlicic said. "A lot of players started reaching out."
College teams are also using the machine at team practices, including LSU, Oklahoma, Southern Methodist, Virginia and Iowa (whose players served as guinea pigs during early development of the device five years ago).
Each machine is designed and customized at the Dallas offices of their company, Monarc. The price point, at $62,500, compares to a couple thousand dollars for an old-school Jugs throwing machine.