Saturday was a busy day for the Huskie football program. Of course, NIU concluded its 2011 spring football practices with the 2011 Spring Football Game, won by the Cardinal team before a crowd of several thousand. The HASF Tailgate Showdown was once again a big hit featuring great food, plenty of Huskie camaraderie and even good weather (for a change). However, the day also provided an opportunity to look back, and look ahead, for the Northern Illinois football program.
The day began early for Northern Illinois coaches as the Huskies held "Junior Day" beginning at 10 a.m. Nearly 100 prospective student-athletes, along with their parents and families, were on hand much to the delight of recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen. The juniors were broken up into groups, toured the Yordon Center and heard presentations from on NIU's academic support, eligibility and compliance and sports performance programs, and interacted directly with the Huskie assistant coaches prior to the preparations for practice began. Both Nielsen and Doeren were thrilled with the turnout and the obvious level of interest in Northern Illinois Football.
During a team meeting prior to the game, members of the 2010 Huskie football team received their official Humanitarian Bowl rings. All the seniors from that 2010 squad - some of whom have already graduated and left campus - were invited to return and many showed up either for that team meeting or during the spring game. NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren reiterated to those seniors that they are Huskies forever, that Northern Illinois is their home and that they are a part of NIU football history with their record-setting 11-win season. I counted at least 10-15 of last year's seniors at the game.
Players on the Bowl Council, who helped design the H-Bowl ring, were very clear that they wanted plenty of "bling" and the ring certainly has it, as you can see from the photo above.
Also during the team meeting, Doeren announced that Courtney Stephen, a 6-0, 195-pound redshirt junior who joined the Huskies last fall from Wilfred Laurier University in Canada, his home country, has been awarded a scholarship for 2011-12. Stephen, who finished the spring as the Huskies' second-team free safety, is the brother of former Northern Illinois player Patrick Stephen, a three-time Academic All-American safety for the Huskies from 1996-98. He sat out last year due to transfer regulations but has made an impact this spring. His entire family was in the team meeting for the announcement and the entire team erupted into cheers when Doeren called Courtney's name.
Stephen is the second player on the current squad to be awarded a scholarship by Doeren since the coach's arrival, continuing a long trend of walk-ons who have become contributors to Northern Illinois over the years - from Alex Krutsch to Chad Spann, Jake Coffman to Jason Schepler and Willie Clark.
Finally, unbeknownst to many, another famous relative of a current Huskie was on hand to watch one of his family members on the field. New York Giants star Brandon Jacobs attended Saturday's spring game and the post-game banquet for the team and family members held at the Holmes Student Center on campus. Several players reported on the Jacobs sighting - "he is a large, large man" was the most common refrain - as he came to DeKalb to watch his cousin, running back Trevor Jacobs, in action and to meet the Huskies' new coaches.