Donna Turner: April 2011 Archives

SATURDAY ABOUT MORE THAN THE GAME

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Humanitarian Bowl Ring.jpg
Saturday was a busy day for the Huskie football program.  Of course, NIU concluded its 2011 spring football practices with the 2011 Spring Football Game, won by the Cardinal team before a crowd of several thousand.  The HASF Tailgate Showdown was once again a big hit featuring great food, plenty of Huskie camaraderie and even good weather (for a change).   However, the day also provided an opportunity to look back, and look ahead, for the Northern Illinois football program.
 
The day began early for Northern Illinois coaches as the Huskies held "Junior Day" beginning at 10 a.m. Nearly 100 prospective student-athletes, along with their parents and families, were on hand much to the delight of recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen.  The juniors were broken up into groups, toured the Yordon Center and heard presentations from on NIU's academic support, eligibility and compliance and sports performance programs, and interacted directly with the Huskie assistant coaches prior to the preparations for practice began.   Both Nielsen and Doeren were thrilled with the turnout and the obvious level of interest in Northern Illinois Football.    

During a team meeting prior to the game, members of the 2010 Huskie football team received their official Humanitarian Bowl rings.  All the seniors from that 2010 squad - some of whom have already graduated and left campus - were invited to return and many showed up either for that team meeting or during the spring game.  NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren reiterated to those seniors that they are Huskies forever, that Northern Illinois is their home and that they are a part of NIU football history with their record-setting 11-win season.  I counted at least 10-15 of last year's seniors at the game. 

Players on the Bowl Council, who helped design the H-Bowl ring, were very clear that they wanted plenty of "bling" and the ring certainly has it, as you can see from the photo above.

Also during the team meeting, Doeren announced that Courtney Stephen, a 6-0, 195-pound redshirt junior who joined the Huskies last fall from Wilfred Laurier University in Canada, his home country, has been awarded a scholarship for 2011-12.  Stephen, who finished the spring as the Huskies' second-team free safety, is the brother of former Northern Illinois player Patrick Stephen, a three-time Academic All-American safety for the Huskies from 1996-98.  He sat out last year due to transfer regulations but has made an impact this spring.  His entire family was in the team meeting for the announcement and the entire team erupted into cheers when Doeren called Courtney's name. 

Stephen is the second player on the current squad to be awarded a scholarship by Doeren since the coach's arrival, continuing a long trend of walk-ons who have become contributors to Northern Illinois over the years - from Alex Krutsch to Chad Spann, Jake Coffman to Jason Schepler and Willie Clark. 

Finally, unbeknownst to many, another famous relative of a current Huskie was on hand to watch one of his family members on the field.  New York Giants star Brandon Jacobs attended Saturday's spring game and the post-game banquet for the team and family members held at the Holmes Student Center on campus.  Several players reported on the Jacobs sighting - "he is a large, large man" was the most common refrain - as he came to DeKalb to watch his cousin, running back Trevor Jacobs, in action and to meet the Huskies' new coaches.

HEAR NIU LIVE TONIGHT AT 11 P.M.

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Northern Illinois head coaches Dave Doeren and Mark Montgomery join NIU Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics Jeff Compher and host Andy Garcia for tonight's installment of "NIU Live." It's the last show of the 2010-11 academic year and the crew had plenty to talk about, including Saturday's Spring Football Game and Montgomery's first basketball recruiting class.  Tune in to 670 AM The Score tonight (Wednesday, April 20) at 11 p.m. for the final NIU Live of the season!

MAC SPRING CHECK-UP

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Northern Illinois Head Coach Dave Doeren joined his Mid-American Conference football counterparts on the league's annual spring football coaches conference call Monday morning.

Doeren answered questions about spring position changes and the battle at running back.  Approximately 15-20 writers from around the league participated in the call.  

Hear the complete interview, and catch up on spring football news across the MAC, by clicking on each coach's link on this page at www.mac-sports.com.
  

NIU SPRING FOOTBALL: PRACTICES 8 & 9

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Wedige-Scott.jpgThe Northern Illinois Huskies returned to the field with a pair of practices over the weekend, the eighth and ninth sessions of 2011 spring drills. After all meetings and practices were cancelled from Wednesday morning through Friday afternoon, with several players using that time to travel to OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford to visit recovering teammate Devon Butler, NIU players were anxious to return the field and it showed.
 
In the third "non-contact" day of spring on Saturday, the Huskies spent a little over two hours on the field.  Spirited individual drills included the linebackers taking on the tailbacks as well as the offensive line-defensive line one-on-one battles.  Music blared as a seven-on-seven session focused on the passing game and several periods were also spent on special teams.  With a Sunday scrimmage looming, the offense and defense worked separately against a "scout team" line-up toward the end of the workout.
 
On Sunday, on a sunny and unseasonably warm (80 degrees) day at Huskie Stadium, it was clear both offense and defense were ready to HIT!   The team hit the field around 10:15 a.m. and after approximately 45 minutes of special teams and individual drills, NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren called the team up and began the scrimmage.
 
With six defensive linemen still sidelined, and a host of young players going up against the Huskies' veteran offensive line, it was no surprise that the NIU offense appeared to have the better day.  Highlights included an early connection between Chandler Harnish and Martel Moore for 40-plus yards, several first down pick-ups by DeMarcus Grady on wide receiver screens and a long Nate Palmer catch and score.  Running backs Akeem Daniels, Jas Hopkins and Leighton Settle also found open lanes for good pick-ups.
 
Defensively, cornerback Rashaan Melvin stood out with a diving interception, a pair of tough tackles and another pass break-up on a deep route.
 
"I thought they came out with the right attitude for practice today," Doeren said following the workout.  "The offense played well early and the defense finished up well in the red zone.  The offense has made a ton of strides.  You can tell they are not thinking as much.  I thought Nate Palmer had an excellent day and it looked like the offensive line played well."

Following the workout, and a post-practice address from NIU President Dr. John Peters, the Huskie team and staff were treated to a lunch of bar-b-que chicken, macaroni and cheese, corn, greens and rolls as the team had a chance to enjoy each other's company in a relaxed setting after a turbulent week.

NIU SPRING FOOTBALL: DAY SIX UPDATE

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Northern Illinois' sixth spring practice of 2011 on Saturday, April 2 at Huskie Stadium saw continued improvement by the Huskie offense with fewer stops overall and fewer big plays by the defense, although the defense continued to perform well in the final "Move the Ball" periods of practice.

For the second practice this year, NIU had referees on the field and with the team having been in pads for the fourth straight day, the intensity was once again upped a notch.

"It was fun to see guys finish plays," said NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren.  "I wanted to see the runners have to run through contact, the defense to make stops, and the receivers make guys miss.  I'm anxious to see the film."

The Northern Illinois offense, under the direction of quarterbacks Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch, seemed to get the best of the defense early in the situational down and distance drills.  The offensive line and tight ends opened lanes, and running backs Jamal Womble, Jas Hopkins, Akeem Daniels and Leighton Settle took full advantage.

"It is getting slower for the offense," Doeren said.  "The tempo has slowed down.  I think their attention to situation is a lot more developed.  Chandler is confident right now and they understand our goals on first down, on second down, in the red zone. Jas had a good day. I was excited to see the running backs do some things after the catch. It's fun watching all these guys compete."

With several veteran defensive linemen on the sidelines due to injuries Saturday (nearly all should return prior to the end of spring), a host of young defensive linemen, including recently converted former offensive linemen Tyler Pitt, Matt Battaglia and Kyle Jenkins (who moved back to defense, his original position at NIU), got extensive reps.  That experience will only make the Huskies stronger, said Doeren.

"It's huge anytime you can build depth," Doeren said. "That allows you to rotate a lot of guys when some of those players come back.  In the long run, it is going to help our team."

Doeren said one of his favorite plays of the day was a Rashaan Melvin blocked PAT following an offensive score.  

"I loved to see that blocked extra point by Melvin," he said.  "I was fired up about that."  

The end of practice featured a field goal kicking competition between kickers Mat Sims and Ryan Fillingim with the losing kicker's "team" forced to do up-downs.  In the end Fillingim - kicking for the reserves - made the last kick after a lengthy session back-and-forth, despite the best efforts of the starters to distract him.    

Practice Notes:  The sun shone brightly throughout Saturday's session but a strong wind kept NIU's end zone lift and operator grounded for the first time this spring... Huskie mascot Diesel and his owner, Tom Bonnevier, were on the sidelines... Diesel took several practice laps in the end zone as he went through his own version of "spring drills"... Former Huskies Jake Coffman, D.J. Pirkle and Cory Hanson watched a good portion of practice from the sidelines.

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