Northern Illinois Bowl Suitors: Notice The Huskie-Record, Loop-Leading 12 All-MAC Gridders?


November 29, 2004

Northern Illinois Bowl Suitors: Notice The Huskie-Record, Loop-Leading 12 All-MAC Gridders?

DeKALB, IL --- Would you call it self-promotion or posturing? Or just reality? Figure if you’re ninth-year Northern Illinois University head football coach Joe Novak or a potential bowl suitor, a school-record and league-high 12 Huskie All-Mid-American Conference performers is exactly what you want to see right now.

“That’s great,” Novak said. “You know, I’m really thrilled for our kids. They’re the ones that worked so hard to get to this point. They deserve the league-wide recognition and it comes from the MAC coaches. That’s the ultimate compliment to our program and our student-athletes. Those coaches respect what they’re doing. As far as the bowls, maybe it is something they look at. I sure hope so.”

League commissioner Rick Chryst announced the 2004 All-MAC honor unit Monday (November 29).

For the third straight football season, West Division co-champion Northern Illinois led the league in All-Mid-Am performers---garnering a fifth of this autumn’s 60-player honor unit. The Huskies also established a single-season school record with eight first-teamers, added three second-team selections, plus boasted a Honorable Mention All-MAC pick. Northern Illinois produced 10 all-league players in 2002 and recorded 11 All-MAC types in 2003.

Bowling Green State had 10 representatives on the 2004 All-Mid-Am squad, followed by East Division kingpin Miami (OH) University with eight and West co-champ University of Toledo with five. The team was picked by the league’s coaches.

The historic eight Northern Illinois all-league first-teamers include senior linebacker Brian Atkinson (Chicago / Fenger), senior tight end Brad Cieslak (Long Grove / Lincolnshire Stevenson), senior free safety Lionel Hickenbottom (Dolton / Chicago Robeson), junior linebacker Javan Lee (Michigan City, IN), senior defensive end Travis Moore (Robbins / Blue Island Eisenhower), junior center Brian Van Acker (Crystal Lake / Prairie Ridge), senior offensive tackle Jake VerStraete (Atkinson / Geneseo J. D. Darnall), and sophomore tailback Garrett Wolfe (Chicago / River Grove Holy Cross).

Sophomore offensive tackle Doug Free (Manitowoc, WI / Lincoln), senior offensive guard Ben Lueck (Oswego), and senior wide receiver Dan Sheldon (Elgin / Burlington Central) earned Second-Team All-MAC honors for the Cardinal and Black while true freshman placekicker Chris Nendick (Naperville / Central) made Honorable Mention All-Mid-Am.

“That’s quite a group,” Novak added. “You’ve got seven productive seniors that we will miss next year. You’ve got some people such as Brian Atkinson, Jake VerStraete, and Travis Moore who repeated as First-Team All-MAC players. Lionel Hickenbottom had a productive senior year. Ben Lueck came back from a serious head injury a few years ago. You’ve got a kid like Brad Cieslak. Our coaching staff challenged him to be the best tight end in the league and look what happened. What a great career for Danny Sheldon here. The underclassmen like Doug Free, Brian Van Acker, Javan Lee, Garrett Wolfe, and Chris Nendick have a lot of football left for us. Nendick can be as good or better than Steve Azar was. Look back and I think Azar as Honorable Mention All-MAC as a freshman, too. There’s two great kickers right there.”

Since 1947, only ten other Mid-Am football programs have had eight or more First-Team All-MAC selections---led by the all-time single-season record set by Marshall (12 in 1999). Excluding ties, the Huskies’ current eight Mid-Am first-teamers equals the fifth-best such total in league history.

Atkinson became only the school’s third two-time, First-Team All-MAC linebacker---joining Hall of Famer Frank Lewandoski (1977, 1979) and ex-teammate Larry Williams (2000, 2002). Named on the preseason Butkus, Nagurski, and Rotary-Lombardi “watch lists”, “The Beast” ranks No. 14 on the all-time Northern Illinois hit list with 330 career tackles. VerStraete is the first Huskie repeat first-teamer at offensive tackle since All-America Ryan Diem (1999, 2000). Moore fought off numerous injuries and battled back to First-Team All-MAC status after making it as a soph (2002).

Cieslak caught the most passes (29) by a Northern Illinois tight end since Mitch Jacoby (1996). Lueck, Free, and Van Acker all were regulars on what Novak called “our best offensive line”---an O-line front that helped the program write a new single-season total offense record (4,906 yards) and produced the Huskies’ newest 1,000-yard rusher in Wolfe. Wolfe, of course, gained 1,470 of his current league-leading 1,572 rushing yards in only seven games and leads the nation in scoring (120 points), touchdowns (20), all-purpose yardage (192.0 ypg. average), and rushing TDs (17).

Hickenbottom ranks No. 2 in Mid-Am interceptions (four) and “passes defended” (12), plus No. 8 in loop kickoff returns (21.8 ypr.) this year. Lee hopes to follow in Atkinson’s footsteps at LB next fall and led Northern Illinois in tackles for loss (13 for 43 yards) in 2004. Nendick set the school single-season PAT kick record (47) and rates as the top frosh kick-scorer in Division 1-A football (89 points). Sheldon currently leads the major-college ranks in yards-per-catch (23.6) and holds numerous Huskie punt return records.

First-Team All-MAC Offense
C--Brian Van Acker, Northern Illinois
OL--Rob Warren, Bowling Green State
OL--Adam Kieft, Central Michigan
OL--Jake VerStraete, Northern Illinois
OL--Nick Kaczur, Toledo
TE--Brad Cieslak, Northern Illinois (tie)
TE--Tony Scheffler, Western Michigan (tie)
WR--Dante Ridgeway, Ball State
WR--Lance Moore, Toledo
WR--Greg Jennings, Western Michigan
QB--Omar Jacobs, Bowling Green State
RB--Adell Givens, Ball State
RB--Jerry Seymore, Central Michigan
RB--Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois
PK--Andrew Wellock, Eastern Michigan

First-Team All-MAC Defense
OLB--Terna Nande, Miami (OH)
OLB--Javan Lee, Northern Illinois
DL--Dan Bazuin, Central Michigan
DL--Jonathan Goddard, Marshall
DL--Marcus Johnson, Miami (OH)
DL--Travis Moore, Northern Illinois
ILB--Jovon Burkes, Bowling Green State
ILB--Brian Atkinson, Northern Illinois
DB--Justin Beriault, Ball State
DB--Keon Newson, Bowling Green State
DB--Lionel Hickenbottom, Northern Illinois
DB--Patrick Body, Toledo
P--Reggie Hodges, Ball State

Second-Team All-MAC Offense
C--Scott Mruczkowski, Bowling Green State
OL--Kory Lichtensteiger, Bowling Green State
OL--Todd Londot, Miami (OH)
OL--Doug Free, Northern Illinois
OL--Ben Lueck, Northern Illinois
TE--Chris Holmes, Toledo
WR--Josh Davis, Marshall
WR--Dan Sheldon, Northern Illinois
WR--Eric Deslauriers, Eastern Michigan
QB--Charlie Frye, Akron
RB--Brett Biggs, Akron
RB--P. J. Pope, Bowling Green State
RB--Anthony Sherrell, Eastern Michigan
PK--Shaun Suisham, Bowling Green State

Second-Team All-MAC Defense
OLB--James King, Central Michigan
OLB--Keon Jackson, Toledo
DL--Mitch Crossley, Bowling Green State
DL--Justin Parrish, Kent State
DL--Jamus Martin, Marshall
DL--Kevin Carberry, Ohio
ILB--Kevin Harrison, Eastern Michigan
ILB--Eric Mahl, Kent State
DB--Curtis Keyes, Marshall
DB--Alphonso Hodge, Miami (OH)
DB--Matt Pusateri, Miami (OH)
DB--Darrell Hunter, Miami (OH)
P--Adam Anderson, Western Michigan

Honorable Mention All-MAC
(Next Top Five in voting, regardless of position)
PK--Chris Nendick, Northern Illinois
QB--Joshua Cribbs,Kent State
RB--Luke Clemens,Miami (OH)
OLB--John Busing, Miami (OH)
OLB--Daniel Sayles, Bowling Green State

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



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