Northern Illinois Names Atkinson, Haldi, Hickenbottom & Verstraete 2004 Football Captains

GO HUSKIES
GO HUSKIES

GO HUSKIES
April 20, 2004

Northern Illinois Names Atkinson, Haldi, Hickenbottom & Verstraete 2004 Football Captains

DeKALB, IL --- With apologies to Marvel Comics and four-color genius Stan Lee, it does fit the latest profile for Northern Illinois University football. The Fantastic Four for 2004. Yes, the Huskies have new quad-captains for next fall.

The 2004 team captains include senior linebacker Brian Atkinson (Chicago / Fenger), senior quarterback Josh Haldi (Madison, OH), senior strong safety Lionel Hickenbottom (Dolton / Chicago Robeson), and senior offensive tackle Jake VerStraete (Atkinson / Geneseo J. D. Darnall), Northern Illinois head coach Joe Novak announced Tuesday (April 20).

“This is a fantastic group of seniors,” Novak said. “All four have played a lot of football here and know exactly what our program is about. They know our team goals and what we need to do to get there. We have a lot of work to do this summer and during August two-a-days. They have been picked by their peers. It’s a solid group who has shown us great leadership on and off the football field. These four young men are tremendous ambassadors for Huskie football.”

In the 103-year history of Northern Illinois football, this quartet represents the ninth time the Huskies have boasted quad-captains----starting in 1970, plus 1971, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1993, 1994, and now 2004. The last NIU quad-captains were Sean Allgood, Gerald Nickelberry, Chris O’Neal, and Vaurice Patterson under then coach Charlie Sadler. The 2004 captains’ balloting was done last week and announced to the team Friday (April 16).

The athletic 6-foot-1, 223-pound Atkinson made the big move from “Sam” linebacker to “Mike” this spring. A preseason Rotary Lombardi Award candidate with :04.60 speed in the 40, No. 38 won First-Team All-Mid-American Conference honors last fall and joined a select group of Northern Illinois elite All-MAC backers such as Bob Gregolunas (1975), Frank Lewandoski (1977, 1979), Mike Terna (1980), and Larry Williams (2000, 2002). Atkinson, the program’s No. 1 active tackler (209 career stops), was a Second-Team All-MAC choice as a soph. He was nicknamed “The Beast” by his teammates.

Haldi, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, can become the first quarterback in school history to throw for 2,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. Often overlooked the last two years due to the presence of All-America tailback Michael “The Burner” Turner, Haldi stands 18-6 as a starter and already set the Northern Illinois single-season records in passing attempts (336), completions (199), yardage (2,544) and touchdowns (25) as a junior. An Academic All-America candidate with a 3.92 cumulative grade point average in accountancy, No. 10 ranked 26th in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1-A passing efficiency (142.02 rating) in 2003 and 27th (132.98 rating) in 2002.

Hickenbottom---better known on campus as “Boogie”---also moved in spring practice from free safety to strong safety. The 6-foot-1, 196-pound senior-to-be came back from a season-ending knee injury in 2002 to register 107 total tackles, six deflections, and two pas interceptions last autumn. As a sophomore in 2001, No. 9 demonstrated his potential with a career-best 17 tackles vs. No. 31-ranked Illinois and 14 stops vs. Wake Forest. In the 2002 opener vs. Wake Forest, he was sidelined for the year on the sixth play of the game. Hickenbottom owns 21 career starts and 198 tackles. In his free time, “Boogie” does his thing as a DJ on The Northern Star internet radio.

At 6-foot-7, 311-pounds, VerStraete is not your average offensive tackle, particularly when you blocked for an All-America TB such as “Turner the Burner.” On the field, No. 66 is a returning First-Team All-Mid-Am type and on the 2004 Rotary Lombardi Award watch list. Novak has compared VerStraete to former Northern Illinois All-America OT Ryan Diem---now with the National Football League Indianapolis Colts. In 2003, VerStraete started 12 times at RT and finished fourth in team knockdown blocks (39). In the classroom, the engineering major with a cumulative 3.36 gpa ranks as another Huskie Academic All-America candidate this season.

Northern Illinois opens the 2004 season at the University of Maryland (September 4) and begins its five-game home schedule against arch-rival Southern Illinois University (September 11) on Brigham Field at Huskie Stadium.

(For further information, please contact Mike Korcek) -NIU-