Jake Elliott is basically as Chicago as you can get.
He went to high school 16.3 miles away from Soldier Field. He dreamed of playing shortstop for the Chicago Cubs. His favorite food is deep-dish pizza.
And on Sunday, for the first time in his career, he will return home to face the team he cheered for growing up in the same stadium where he attended his first NFL game (a preseason game but that still counts) as a young kid.
And, of course, everything will be on the line.
"It's exciting. It's exciting to go back home," said Elliott at his locker after practice on Thursday. "Obviously, I'll have a lot of family there at the game. I haven't played a game back there since high school, so it'll be cool to go back, but other than that, it's just another game."
Elliott was able to snag tickets for 21 family members, friends, and former coaches to watch him play. It was difficult to select from many supporters. He said he's excited to get to talk with those who helped him reach the NFL and continue to watch him each week.
He plans to meet up with his friends and family after the game, hopefully, to celebrate. Until then, his focus is solely on the game. Like him, everyone coming to Soldier Field were Bears fans before. But Elliott swears there's no Chicago fandom left in them.
"It's all Philly now," Elliott said. "It's cool getting to go home and play in front of a bunch of family and friends. So, in that aspect of it, it's special. But just try to keep it as even-keeled as possible."
In his second year in the NFL, Elliott has not had the chance to kick at Soldier Field yet. But as a native of the area, he said he knows how difficult the conditions in the historic stadium can get. Sunday's forecast doesn't call for extreme Chicago cold but there will be some wind. Elliott believes he is prepared for whatever the Windy City throws at him.
"I'm preparing for it like I would any other week," Elliott said. "The one thing I'll say is it's definitely notoriously a difficult place to kick but, we're kicking up in the Northeast as well and it's not an easy place to kick either. But, like I said, just preparing like any other week."
Growing up primarily as a tennis player who didn't start kicking until his final two years of high school, Elliott said he didn't have dreams of making a game-winning kick at Soldier Field like many would expect of an NFL kicker. That may be part of the reason why he doesn't expect to be overcome by the emotions of playing at home in a playoff game in front of friends and family.
As for the intensity of kicking in the playoffs, Elliott has had plenty of pressure-filled moments for a player only in his second NFL season. Just this year, he made a walk-off, game-winning kick against the Texans that kept the Eagles' playoff hopes alive. Last season, Elliott hit the longest field goal ever by a rookie in a Super Bowl.
He's had big-game experience and knows how to minimize postseason pressure.
"It's just the same kick mentality every time," Elliott said. "Whether it's the regular season or postseason, that's the way I approached it last year. I think that helped, and that's the same way I'm approaching this year.
"This is the NFL and these are the playoffs so all these games are going to be probably pretty close," he added. "And that's the mindset that you've got to have as a kicker, that these games have a good chance of coming down to you. So mentally, I'm ready for that and ready for that task."