Highlights from the celebration of the NIU men's soccer team's 1-0 win over Western Michigan
A mind for the game.
A heart for the players.
Talk to anyone who knows seventh-year NIU Head Men's Soccer Coach Eric Luzzi, and those two points surface almost immediately.
"Eric is a guy that cares about his players," were among the first words to come from Northwestern coach Tim Lenahan on hearing that Luzzi had been named the eighth head coach in NIU history.
Mike Avery, the leader of Valparaiso's program added, "Eric is very smart, speaks well, is a great teacher, works very hard, and has a great passion for the game and the players."
Those were among the many attributes that convinced then NIU Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics Jeff Compher to promote Luzzi from associate head coach to head coach on July 1, 2009.
In his first season as NIU head coach, Luzzi made an indelible impression on the NIU soccer program. The Huskies tied No. 1 North Carolina in Chapel Hill in his second game as at the helm. Luzzi's inaugural season also saw standout victories over Oregon State, Wisconsin, and Milwaukee to retain the Lewang Cup. NIU finished the year 10-8-1, making Luzzi the first NIU men's soccer coach since 1969 to have a winning record in his opening season.
Following a 2010 season that saw the Huskies post a 9-6-2 record, including a perfect record against the Big Ten with victories over Northwestern and Wisconsin, as well as a LeWang Cup victory over Milwaukee, Luzzi took NIU to new heights in 2011.
His third season at the helm saw the Huskies post a 15-6-0 record, tying the program-record for wins, en route to a Mid-American Conference championship and a bid to the 2011 NCAA Tournament. NIU defeated Western Illinois 3-0 in the first round of the tournament before bowing out to second-seeded Creighton. Northern Illinois was ranked as high as No. 13 in the adidas/NSCAA national ranking and No. 16 in the RPI during the 2011 campaign, finishing with a program-best RPI of 24. Following the season, five Huskies received All-MAC honors and four players received NSCAA All-Great Lakes region honors - the most in the region.
In 2012, Luzzi and the Huskies played one of the most difficult schedules in the country, playing five foes that were ranked in the top-five in the country. After winning just one of its first eight games, Luzzi's Huskies rallied to reach the MAC Championship game for the second-straight season. Along the way, NIU earned quality wins against Big Ten champion Northwestern and MAC newcomer West Virginia, beating the Mountaineers twice, including in the MAC Tournament semifinals.
Five Huskies earned Academic All-MAC honors in 2012 while three Huskies, including goalkeeper Jordan Godsey, earned MAC All-Tournament team recognition. In four years as Luzzi's starting goalkeeper, Godsey recorded a school-record 35 career shutouts, 13th-best in NCAA history, and also finished with a school-record 0.80 goals against average.
In 2013, the Huskies again played a challenging schedule, facing three opponents in the top 20. The campaign was highlighted by the installation of lights at the NIU Soccer Complex as the Huskies cruised past Eastern Illinois, 3-0, on Oct. 22 in the first light game in the history of the facility. Also in 2013, Isaac Kannah earned All-MAC honors after scoring a team-high six goals. Off the field, five Huskies earned MAC academic honors, led by first team Academic All-MAC selection Dusty Page, who was also named to the CoSIDA District 5 Academic All-District Team.
NIU defeated a ranked foe for the first time in Luzzi’s tenure during the 2014 season, as the Huskies bettered 23rd-ranked UIC, 1-0, on Sept. 12. The Huskies also earned a number of individual honors during the 2014 season, including Issac Kannah earning First Team All-MAC honors, becoming NIU’s first three-time All-MAC honoree since Justin McGrane (2004-06), and Luzzi’s 14th all-conference selection in his first six seasons. Dusty Page became the fifth Academic All-American in Huskie soccer history and five student-athletes earned Academic All-MAC honors.
Luzzi was promoted to associate head coach of the Huskies in March 2009, a reward for his commitment and loyalty to NIU during his tenure. In 2006, he helped guide Northern Illinois to the Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament championships. That year, under the tutelage of Luzzi, goalkeeper Joe Zimka set an NCAA record for goals allowed average, and the Huskies set the NIU record for shutouts in a season with 14. In 2008, Luzzi was part of the staff that coached the Huskies to eight shutouts, a win over No. 2-ranked SMU, and a trip to the MAC Championship game for the second time in three years.
"All the pieces are here to continue competing for championships," Luzzi said. "We have great facilities, we have been in the top-25 for the last seven years, we have a top schedule, and, most importantly, we have a terrific group of committed student-athletes."
A consummate Chicagoan, Luzzi followed up a stellar prep goalkeeping career at St. Ignatius High School as a four-year letterman and starting keeper at Saint Mary's (Minnesota). His résumé includes two campaigns as head coach for Schaumburg High School prior to his return to his alma mater, where he spent five seasons guiding the Cardinals.
"We're in Chicagoland, and that's a big deal because this is my home," Luzzi said. "Leading a program that I've invested so much in over the last four years, and one that is close to my home is exciting."
Compher agreed that Luzzi's Chicago ties are part of what made the then 34-year-old the right fit to take over the Northern Illinois program.
"He is a Chicago native with deep roots in the soccer community in this area, going back not only to his days as a high school coach, but to his days as a high school player," Compher said.
Despite living in the area much of his life, Luzzi didn't make his first trip to DeKalb until June of 1999. Upon arrival, he saw a program he dreamed of one day leading.
"I remember thinking to myself, `the potential for this place is incredible,' and how Northern Illinois should be competing for championships every single year," Luzzi said. "The fact that literally 10 years to the week after that, I got the opportunity to lead the team in competing for those championships is special."
The son of Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association (IHSSCA) Hall of Famer and long-time St. Ignatius head coach Jim Luzzi, the younger Luzzi has also logged seven summers working with the Olympic Development Program (ODP), including the United States Soccer Federation's Region II. In the winter of 2006, Luzzi was named head goalkeepers coach for USSF Region II ODP. During the summer of 2007, Luzzi traveled to France with the U-18 ODP squad as an assistant coach.
Luzzi holds a USSF National "A" License, NSCAA Premier National Diploma (with distinction) and Level III National Goalkeeping License, a USSF Youth License and a Dutch Soccer Federation Youth Coaching Certificate. A 1997 graduate of Saint Mary's, Luzzi earned a bachelor of arts in social science education and completed his master's in human development from SMU in December of 2009.
Luzzi married the former Kim Rodr in May of 2009. The two live in DeKalb with their dog Bob.