Air attack holds key to NIU hopes - Lessons learned from 1983
August 19, 2000 Chicago Tribune Newspaper by Bill Jauss
DeKalb - In the 31 years Northern Illinois has struggled to a 133-202-04 record in Division I football, one season stands out like a shinning beacon. That was 1983, when coach Bill Mallory's Huskies won the Mid-American Conference Championship and beat Cal State-Fullerton in the California Bowl to finish 10-2 and set the standard for future NIU.
It is significant, then, that Joe Novak, the current Huskies coach who was the defensive coordinator on that '83 team, refers to that season when he addresses what appears to be the No. 1 hurdle for his current squad to overcome.
The Huskies, who lost 30 of 33 games in Novak's first three seasons, turned the corner last year. They won four in a row and finished 5-6 overall and 5-3 in the MAC. Academic shortcomings, however, stripped this year's team of William Andrews and Ivory Bryant, tailbacks who rushed for 1,127 and 325 yards, respectively, in 1999.
Thus the huge question mark facing the Huskies is this: Can the passing of Chris Finlen, the receiving of Justin McCareins and Darrell Hill and the blocking of a line led by 6-foot-7 inch, 336-pound tackle Ryan Diem offset the loss of two backs who rushed for 1,452 yards between them?
Novak's answer, shared by his quarterback, his receivers and his offensive lineman, is a resounding yes. "We can offset the loss of the tailbacks," Novak said. "We have to. We did that in 1983. Pete Roth rushed for more than 1,000 yards in '82, but (Mallory) fired him off the team for academic reasons. Darryl Richardson hadn't played a lick, but he rushed for 1,200 yards and helped us make the California Bowl."
"You can deal with the loss of a running back a lot quicker than the loss of a player like Finlen or Diem, a quarterback or an offensive lineman or a defensive back," Novak added. "We have backs with ability. If they don't fumble, we'll be all right."
Thomas Hammock, a 202-pounder from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, will get first crack at tailback. Jon DuQuoin, stands ready. So do three promising freshmen. Novak might move 255-pound St. Rita grad Marion Rucker from fullback to tailback.
Diem, a B-plus student in mechanical engineering, was called "Road Grader" by one NFL scout. The 21-year-old Glenbard North graduate has a 20-inch neck, 32-inch thighs and a 51-inch chest. He owns the school record for his 800-pound bionic squat lift in the weight room.
Up front Diem is joined by three more returning regulars: 300-pound center McAllister Collins from Bloom, 284-pound tackle Tim Vincent from Galena and 280-pound guard Kyle Jakubek from Ottawa.
Northern passing game is potent and, as Finlen pointed out: "we can use it to set up the run. If the defense packs in to stop the run, we'll open them up with passes."
Northern's strength and conditioning coach, John Binkowski, wondered if any other team has two receivers as tall and as swift as the 6-4 Hill, who was clocked in 4.3 seconds for 40 yards, and the 6-3 McCareins, clocked in 4.36.
McCareins, a former Naperville North star, caught 57 passes for 906 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Hill, from Mt. Carmel, caught 32 for 578 yards and had a 96-yard reception among his six scoring catches.
The strength of the defense lies in the secondary and linebacking corps. Linebackers Kevin Selover, who, like Finlen, is from Rockton Hononegah, and Cameron Saulsby from Orlando are team leaders. Defensive backs Jermaine Hampton, Benji Peacock and Buster Sampson were toughened during 1999 turnaround season.
As the Aug. 31 opening day approaches, Novak is worried about replacing the graduated Kent Backer, who punted and place-kicked last year.
Despite their improvement, the Huskies still weren't in the class with MAC leaders Marshall and Toledo when last season ended. If they close that gap in 2000, the Huskies could rank with their model 1983 team. footballhistorian.com - College Football History