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CHICAGO - On Sundays, you watch NFL action from the sidelines. During the week, you hear the banter and jokes in the locker room. Mingling with Brian Urlacher and his friends is an added bonus.

The hours are long and the pay ¦ well, right now there isn't any pay.

That's OK with Kevin Casey. The Pontiac High School graduate figures you can't put a value on what he's learning.

Casey is serving an internship in athletic training with the Chicago Bears this season as the last step toward his Illinois State graduation. He's been with the Bears through mini-camp at Lake Forest, on to training camp at Bourbonnais and possibly toward the playoffs next month.

"I hope it doesn't end until Feb. 5," said Casey, referring to Super Bowl XL at Detroit's Ford Field.

Actually, it won't even end for Casey when the Bears' season eventually finishes. He's already accepted a position with the team next season as a hydration specialist. Although Casey said he won't technically be on staff, he will be paid.

Casey might have done it for free.

"Being from Illinois, I always liked the Bears. It's a dream working for them," said Casey, who played football and baseball in high school. "The first couple weeks you're in awe seeing Brian Urlacher and working with him hand in hand. But it wears off and then you're on a first-name basis, just like any job.

"I don't have trouble with any of them. It takes a while for them to get used to me and me to get used to them. Now, they know my style."

Todd McLoda, an advisor for athletic training at ISU, helped Casey secure an internship with the Bears. Casey went for an interview at Halas Hall in Lake Forest in early March and heard by the end of that week he would be one of two student interns for head trainer Tim Bream.

Casey attended the Bears' mini-camp at Lake Forest in May to get himself acquainted with the staff. A couple weeks later he helped the training staff pack for Bourbonnais, site of the Bears' training camp in July.

Being an intern means Casey does a little bit of everything.

He and Jeff Long, the other student intern from Florida State, get to the practice complex at 6:30 a.m. each day to set up the tape for the trainers. When the players start coming in an hour later, Casey said he'll help with their treatments. Casey sets up the water carts for practice later in the day. Then there's cleaning up after practice.

"We have hardly any (free time)," said Casey, who shares an apartment with Long in suburban Gurnee. "We get home, eat dinner, go to bed and get up."

On Saturdays, Casey and Long attend the team's walk-through practice. Before going to a downtown Chicago hotel to spend the night with the team before home games, they'll go to Soldier Field and make sure everything is ready for the trainers the next day. When the Bears are on the road, Casey travels with the team.

The Bears began the season losing three of their first four games. An eight-game winning streak followed which vaulted the team into first place in the NFC North Division.

That has made for a great work environment, said Casey.

"I can't compare it to when they were losing because I wasn't here, but they're loose and easy going," he said. "There's a lot of joking around and everyone gets along."

Casey credits former Pontiac High School trainer Joe Kucharski with steering him toward athletic training.

"I watched him during a career day at a clinic. It sparked an interest," said Casey.

However, Casey attended Heartland Community College in Normal and got an associate's degree in accounting before deciding to become an athletic training major at ISU.

"I really like working with football and the more I got into this, I liked it a lot more," he said. "I know it's a lot of work and hours. Doing it for an internship, hopefully I'll get my foot in the door and something will come out of it."

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