Grid progress continues: Northern Illinois merits loop-high, school-record 11 All-MAC picks


December 2, 2002

DeKALB, IL --- Success is relative. How do you measure it? Would it spoil Northern Illinois University football, head coach Joe Novak, or the Huskies themselves?

Three consecutive winning seasons (6-5 in 2000, 6-5 in 2001, and 8-4 in 2002) for only the second time in the program’s 34-year tenure in the major-college ranks. Back-to-back Mid-American Conference co-West Division titles (2001 and 2002). And now a league-leading and school-record 11 All-MAC gridiron selections in one year.
What more could Northern Illinois want? Novak readily knows the answer to that question.

“That certainly is tremendous recognition from the league’s coaches that 11 of our kids are named All-MAC,” Novak replied. “That’s great. It really is. All of them are deserving of such an honor. Next year, we have several of them back. Still, with all those awards, that is not our focus. It’s still a team game and we want a shot at playing in the MAC Championship Game and in a bowl game. Each one of these kids will tell you the same thing themselves.”

Novak’s 11 all-conference picks this autumn represent another step in the rebuilding program that took the Huskies from national doormat to the Mid-Am’s upper echelon. Sadly, Northern Illinois dropped its regular-season MAC finale to the University of Toledo by a 33-30 margin for its only league setback, which cost the Huskies an appearance in the title game this Saturday (December 7) against East Division champion Marshall University and live on ESPN2.

Northern Illinois led the Mid-Am with six 2002 first-team picks---senior offensive tackle Tim Vincent (Galena), junior tailback Michael Turner (North Chicago), senior linebacker Larry Williams (Chicago / Dunbar), soph defensive end Travis Moore (Robbins / Blue Island Eisenhower), senior cornerback Vince Thompson (Chicago / St. Rita), and junior cornerback Randee Drew (Milwaukee, WI / Glendale Nicolet)---ahead of MAC Championship Game participants Toledo and Marshall with four players apiece.
Better yet, Novak’s Huskies topped all 14 league schools with 11 overall All-MAC selections, followed by Toledo (eight), the University of Central Florida (six), Bowling Green State University (five), and Western Michigan University (four).

The Huskie Second-Team All-Mid-Am choices included senior tight end Matt Dunker (Marengo), junior center Todd Ghilani (Elkhorn, WI / Area), junior placekicker Steve Azar (Colorado Springs, CO / Highlands Ranch), sophomore linebacker Brian Atkinson (Chicago / Fenger), and junior linebacker Nick Duffy (Wheaton / Warrenville South).
Prior to 2002, the Hall of Fame 1983 Northern Illinois team---coached by Bill Mallory---held the school record with 10 All-MAC selections during a 10-2 campaign that included the MAC regular-season title and a Cal Bowl triumph. Novak’s 2000 group featured the program’s first six First-Team All-Mid-Am picks with center McAllister Collins, offensive tackle Ryan Diem, tailback Thomas Hammock, strong safety Jermaine Hampton, flankerback Justin McCareins, and Williams.

Azar and Williams joined an elite Huskie group of only eight players to be named All-MAC in football three times since 1975---and the former possesses a unique opportunity to become the first Northern Illinois four-time All-Mid-Am performer next season. Azar, who heads into 2003 as the league’s No. 1 active scorer with 266 career kick-scoring points (110-of-115 PATs and 52-of-66 field goals), made Honorable Mention All-MAC in 2000, First-Team in 2001, and Second-Team in 2002. Williams, a First-Team All-Mid-Am choice in both 2000 and 2002, plus an Honorable Mention pick in 2001, finished his career ranked No. 5 on the All-Time Huskie Hit List with 434 career tackles.

The previous Northern Illinois All-MAC grid “three-peats” include linebacker Frank Lewandowski (First-Team in 1977 and 1979, plus Second-Team in 1978), offensive guard-tackle Todd Peat (First-Team in 1984 and 1985, plus Second-Team in 1983), Diem (First-Team in 1999 and 2000, plus Second-Team in 1998), punter Jim Hannula (First-Team in 1978, plus Second-Team in 1979 and 1980), punter Todd Van Keppel (First-Team in 1984, Second-Team in 1983, and Honorable Mention in 1982), and tailback Allen Ross (Second-Team in 1977, 1979, and 1980).

Turner, a nominee for the league’s Vern Smith Award and a semifinalist for the Doak Walker National Runningback Award, headlined Novak’s First-Team selections. The six-foot, 223-pound junior currently ranks No. 2 in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1-A rushing (159.6 yards-per-game average) and No. 2 nationally in all-purpose yardage (190.3 ypg.), plus No. 8 in scoring (10.0 ppg.). “The Burner” tied a single-season school record with nine 100-yard or better games and rewrote the MAC single-season rushing mark with 1,915 yards.

Drew and Thompson started in a Northern Illinois secondary that ranked No. 9 in the nation during the preseason and combined for 12 interceptions and 26 deflections this year. Nationally, Drew ranks No. 6 in NCAA “picks” with seven (0.58 per game) and No. 15 in kickoff returns (26.1 ypr.). In 2001, Thompson also made First-Team All-MAC.
Vincent---who led the Huskie O-line with 16 “dominator” (pancake) blocks this fall and 29 during the last two years---earned First-Team All-Mid-Am status in 2002 after being a Second-Team pick as a junior. In his first season as a starter, Moore shared the Northern Illinois tackle for loss lead (13) with Williams. Dunker, Ghilani, Atkinson, and Duffy won All-MAC honors for the first time.

The All-MAC team was voted on by the league’s coaches and announced by league commissioner Rick Chryst Monday (December 2). The school-by-school All-MAC player breakdown: Northern Illinois (11), Marshall (11), Toledo (eight), Central Florida (six), Bowling Green State (five), Western Michigan (four), Ball State (three), Eastern Michigan (three), Miami (OH) (three), Central Michigan (two), Ohio (two), and Buffalo (one).

Other Mid-Am football awards that will be announced this week include Freshman of the Year and Special Teams Player of the Year Tuesday (December 3), Defensive Player of the Year Wednesday (December 4), Offensive Player of the Year Thursday (December 5), and Coach of the Year and Vern Smith Award recipient Friday (December 6).

First-Team All-MAC

TE--Mobolaji Afariogan, Western Michigan
C--Chris Tuminello, Toledo
OL--Steve Sciullo, Marshall
OL--Nick Kaczur, Toledo
OL--Tim Vincent, Northern Illinois
OL--Kyle Croskey, Central Michigan
WR--Darius Watts, Marshall
WR--Robert Redd, Bowling Green State
WR--Kevin Walter, Eastern Michigan
QB--Byron Leftwich, Marshall
RB--Michael Turner, Northern Illinois
RB--Marcus Merriweather, Ball State
RB--Chad Brinker, Ohio
PK--Jared Parseghian, Miami (OH)

OLB--Larry Williams, Northern Illinois
OLB--Matt Robillard, Miami (OH)
ILB--Tom Ward, Toledo
ILB--David Gardner, Toledo
DL--Jason Babin, Western Michigan
DL--Chris Browning, Western Michigan
DL--Elton Patterson, Central Florida
DL--Travis Moore, Northern Illinois
DB--Vince Thompson, Northern Illinois
DB--Randee Drew, Northern Illinois
DB--Assante Samuel, Central Florida
DB--Atari Bigby, Central Florida
P--Curtis Head, Marshall

Second-Team All-MAC

TE--Craig Bartoszek, Buffalo
TE--Matt Dunker, Northern Illinois
C--Todd Ghilani, Northern Illinois

OL--David Miller, Ball State
OL--Dennis Wendel, Bowling Green State
OL--Stephen Peretta, Marshall
OL--Erik Faasen, Toledo
WR--Jimmy Fryzel, Central Florida
WR--Carl Ford, Toledo
WR--Doug Gabriel, Central Florida
QB--Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (OH)
RB--Robbie Mixon, Central Michigan
RB--Ime Akpan, Eastern Michigan
RB--Luke Clemens, Miami (OH)
PK--Steve Azar, Northern Illinois

OLB--Justin Beriault, Ball State
OLB--Brian Atkinson, Northern Illinois
ILB--Chris Haneline, Bowling Green State
ILB--Nick Duffy, Northern Illinois
DL--Alex Glantzis, Bowling Green State
DL--Orlando Washington, Marshall
DL--Janus Martin, Marshall
DL--Toriano Brown, Marshall
DB--Janssen Patton, Bowling Green State
DB--Chris Crocker, Marshall
DB--Bop White, Ohio
DB--Brandon Hefflin, Toledo
P--Ryan Flinn, Central Florida
P--David Rysko, Eastern Michigan

Honorable Mention All-MAC
WR--Josh Davis, Marshall
OLB--Keon Jackson, Toledo
ILB--Duran Smith, Marshall
ILB--Bryan Lape, Western Michigan

(For further information, please contact Mike Korcek)



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