Northern Illinois Names A. J. Harris, Javan Lee, Ray Smith & Brian Van Acker 2005 Grid Captains


May 2, 2005

Northern Illinois Names A. J. Harris, Javan Lee, Ray Smith & Brian Van Acker 2005 Grid Captains

DeKALB, IL --- Four Northern Illinois University football seniors---tailback A. J. Harris (Wheaton / North), linebacker Javan Lee (Michigan City, IN), strong safety Ray Smith (Crown Point, IN / St. John Lake Central), and center Brian Van Acker (Crystal Lake / Prairie Ridge)---were named the Huskies’ 2005 quad-captains.

Northern Illinois head coach Joe Novak made the captains’ announcement Monday (May 2)
“It’s an outstanding group,” Novak said about the quartet which was selected in balloting done by their peers. “At the end of spring practice, we kept reminding the team how important this was, that the captains were the designated representatives of this football program and the institution both on and off the field. In that respect, we’ve got some top-notch leaders.

“In regards to our captains, it is vitally important that these four individuals step up and lead this football team. Our team goal has not changed---win the Mid-American Conference championship. That said, this might be one of our youngest teams, experience-wise, in recent years. So their leadership, starting this summer and going through August and the rest of the season, is critical for our program.”

In the 104-year history of Huskie football, this Harris-Lee-Smith-Van Acker quartet represents the tenth time overall that Northern Illinois has boasted quad-captains and the second year in a row. Prior to last fall when linebacker Brian Atkinson, quarterback Josh Haldi, free safety Lionel Hickenbottom, and offensive tackle Jake VerStraete served as NIU’s captains, the program had quad-captains in 1970, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1983, 1993, and 1994.

Novak’s 2005 leadership foursome features two Rotary Lombard Award candidates, the most prolific National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1-A single-game bowl rusher in school history, and the Mid-American Conference’s No. 2 returning pass defender.

Harris was one of the heroes of the Silicon Valley Football Classic last December. The 6-foot-1, 221-pounder subbed for the injured Garrett Wolfe and rushed for a team-high 120 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries (118 yards in the second half) during Northern Illinois’ 34-21 win over Troy University in San Jose. A three-year letterman, Harris gained 822 yards and four TDs on 174 attempts in 2004 and heads into his senior campaign as the No. 6 returning ground-gainer in the MAC. With :04.39 speed in the 40, Harris owns three career 100-yard games and six starts. His 139-yard outing vs. Southern Illinois marks his career best. Harris and Wolfe rank as the nation’s No. 1 returning rushing duo (2,478 yards).

Named to the preseason 2005 Rotary Lombardi Award “watch list”, Lee is the top returning tackler in the Mid-Am (119 stops in 2004). The 6-foot-2, 222-pounder made the coaches’ First-Team All-MAC unit and Mid-Am West Defensive Player of the Week with a career-high 18 stops on ESPN2 and against Bowling Green State University last autumn. Also the top active career hitman (212 tackles in 2002-04) on the Huskie roster, Lee collected six twin-digit tackle outings in 2004---including a 16-stop effort vs. the University of Toledo and a 10-hit performance vs. Independence Bowl entry Iowa State University. In the Troy game, Lee was credited with three tackles for loss in the Silicon Valley Football Classic.

According to Novak, Smith “plays like he has stuck his finger in an electrical socket.” The active 6-foot-2, 185-pounder makes big plays and ranks as the No. 2 returning MAC pass defender after notching 10 pass deflections and two interceptions in 2004. Smith earned MAC West Defensive Player of the Week honors with 14 tackles against Southern Illinois in 2004. In last year’s opener at No. 22-rated University of Maryland, Smith produced a career-high 17 stops and two fumble-cause hits. Smith notched 16 tackles and two deflections vs. No. 33 Toledo and added 10 hits and an interception at Iowa State. Career-wise, Smith owns eight double-digit tackle games, 16 starts, and 181 tackles in 36 career appearances.

Van Acker anchors the talented Northern Illinois O-line front five that blocked for the nation’s No. 11 major-college rushing attack (238.2 yards-per-game average), No. 13 scoring offense (35.1 ppg.), and No. 14 total offense (438.8 ypg.) a year ago. The mobile 6-foot-4, 287-pounder was selected on the preseason 2005 Rotary Lombardi Award “watch list” and the 2004 coaches’ First-Team All-MAC unit. Van Acker started 12 times at center for the 9-3 Huskies who won a share of the Mid-Am West Division crown for the third time in the last four seasons. In 2004, Van Acker wound up second in team “knockdown” blocks (76), finished third in NIU blocking grades (86 percent), and posted a 415-pound bench press.

Northern Illinois enters the 2005 campaign with five consecutive winning seasons (6-5 in 2000 and 2001, 8-4 in 2002, 10-2 in 2003, and 9-3 in 2004) and ranked in the nation’s Division 1-A Top 30 for the last two years. Novak’s Huskies start the year with back-to-back contests against Big Ten Conference opposition---September 3 in the historic first-ever meeting at the University of Michigan and September 10 at neighborhood-rival Northwestern University. Northern Illinois will open its 41st season in Huskie Stadium with a September 17 date against non-conference foe Tennessee Tech University.

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



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