Football: April 2011 Archives


Palmer's Sign.jpgToday was photo day for NIU's seniors and newcomers for the upcoming 2011 season. It's the day their coat and tie head shots were taken. As you can see in this photo gallery, many of them had fun with it.


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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.


Chandler Harnish.jpgDidn't make it to Northern Illinois University's 2011 Spring Game? Don't worry, we and the local media have you covered.

Kudos to Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune. The Trib's veteran reporter posted three videos in addition to his spring recap/preview of the upcoming 2011 season. Mitchell posted videos of Chandler Harnish talking about the team's progress this spring, Dave Doeren's assessment of his first spring practice and Tommy Davis' thoughts on his teammate Devon Butler.

Ryan Wood of the Daily Chronicle analyzed how the four major position battles that went on in camp fared Saturday. Wood also broke down the progress of the offense this spring as well. Jay Taft of the Rockford Register Star, who turned in this outstanding piece on NIU head coach Dave Doeren early last week, filed this report on NIU's Spring Game.'s Andrea Adelson included a recap of the Huskies' scrimmage in her blog post this morning.

On a side note, there was an NFL star in the stands Saturday taking in the Huskies' final practice of the spring. New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs was watching his cousin, Tevor Jacobs, a running back for NIU being put through his paces.


Humanitarian Bowl.jpgLooks like Northern Illinois University had another victory at the 2010 uDrove Humanitarian Bowl. In addition to its 40-17 victory over Fresno State, NIU made a profit. The Daily Chronicle's Ryan Wood broke down the numbers in this story.


Bell-Cameron.jpgCameron Bell is no stranger to changing positions. He started his collegiate career as a linebacker at Iowa State before transferring to Northern Illinois and moving to tailback. In the closing weeks of spring ball, Bell is on the move again. With injuries and lack of depth at the tight end position, he stepped up and made the move to tight end in an effort to help the football team. Ryan Wood of the Daily Chronicle writes that it has been a steep learning curve the last few weeks but the coaches know he's talented enough to make the transition.


One of the positions that has seen the stiffest competition so far this spring has been running back. The battle to replace 2010 Vern Smith Leadership Award winner Chad Spann and become the next Huskie in a long line of successful backs has been fun to watch. Three talented players with three very different styles have been vying for the starting role, returners Jas Hopkins and Akeem Daniels and newcomer Jamal Womble. Andrea Adelson of caught up with Jas and Jamal and filed this post on ESPN's College Football Blog.


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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!


NIU Helmet.jpgWith Arizona State redesigning its helmet and uniform, the College Football Roundtable at debated who has the best helmet design. Unfortunately, NIU's helmet wasn't picked, however it did get some praise from one member of the roundtable.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I'm going off the board, so to speak, with my pick: Wyoming. A cowboy on a bucking horse, waving his cowboy hat, shown from the side. I think it's fantastic. And because it's a white helmet with a brown logo, it pops. I also really like Texas', UCLA's, Northern Illinois', SMU's, Iowa's and Michigan's, but Wyoming's is my favorite.


Northern Illinois University's Jordan Lynch has made great progress during spring practice this season under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Matt Canada and starting quarterback Chandler Harnish. Ryan Wood of the Daily Chronicle spoke with Lynch to talk about the progress of the Huskies' backup QB in this feature.

A quarterback last season, DeMarcus Grady made the move to wide receiver this spring. He's quickly discovering how the other half lives. As a quarterback, Grady confesses he was guilty of not understanding how challenging it is to play the wide receiver position in this feature story by Wood.

Wood also sat down with Canada and defensive coordinator Jay Nieman last week for a Q&A session with both coaches. Canada discussed the feeling out process and how quickly the offense picked up the new system during spring. In Nieman's Q&A, he talked about the evaluation period early in camp and some of the position battles currently in progress.


Andrew Singer sat down with first-year Huskie head man Dave Doeren and got his take on why the head football coach position at Northern Illinois was so important to him. He also talks to Doeren about his road to being a head coach and his goals for the Northern Illinois football program in this Q&A.


Schepler-Jason.jpgMany Huskie fans know how important the tight end has been to the success of the NIU football team through the years. NIU head coach Dave Doeren knows the tight end position could be a real asset to the Huskie offense. Three-year starter Jason Schepler feels the Huskie tight ends will be a factor in the NIU offense this season writes Jay Taft of the Rockford Register Star.


Melvin-Rashaan.jpgOne position hit hard by graduation was Northern Illinois University's secondary. Tommy Davis, who started all 14 games for NIU at free safety, is the lone returning starter in the group. What the Huskies lack in experience, they make up for in athleticism writes Ryan Wood of the Daily Chronicle.

At over six-feet tall, Rashaan Melvin, Dominique Ware and Jimmy Ward bring size to the cornerback position the Huskies did not have last year. New cornerback's coach Richard McNutt has been happy with what he's seen from his charges so far through spring ball.


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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.


Akeem DanielsNorthern Illinois University running back Akeem Daniels, who had a couple electrifying plays last year, has had a pretty solid spring camp. Daniels is more comfortable this year having made the move from wide receiver to running back. He had another good day yesterday, as Ryan Wood of the Daily Chronicle writes in yesterday's blog.


NIU women's volleyball head coach Ray Gooden will serve as an analyst for the Ohio State-Penn State for the BigTen Network. The match starts at 4 p.m. Central Time. It might be tough for Gooden to be objective as the Huskie head man is an Ohio State grad.


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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.


Do you want to know why there is no playoff in Division I college football? This article is a perfect example. The day before the Final Four, Darren Everson of the Wall Street Journal is talking college football. Everson filled out a bracket, substituting the basketball teams with football teams, and guess which one of the teams is in his Final Four. That's right--your Northern Illinois Huskies!

NCAA Football Bracket.jpgEverson compared NIU to Butler, which is high praise considering the Bulldogs are making their second-straight Final Four appearance. The Huskies navigated a tough bracket, knocking off Notre Dame, Standford, LSU and Wisconsin, all without their head coach and offensive and defensive coordinators! (As you recall, former NIU head coach Jerry Kill left for Minnesota right after the MAC Championship and took Matt Limegrover and Tracey Claeys with him.)

The Huskies will take on Air Force in the first semifinal game of the day. NIU was the highest seed coming out of the Mid-American Conference and the only MAC team to advance past the first round. Toledo and Temple, No. 16 seeds, and Miami a 10 seed, were all bounced in the first round.

So, as I watch the rest of the tournament, I will be pulling for Butler to win it all.

MAC Basketball Blog

MAC Basketball Blog