DeKALB - Northern Illinois football coach Joe Novak opened his 10th season Monday with the team's first fall practice. "It was a good first day," Novak said. "There was a lot of carry over from the spring. There was good enthusiasm and we want that to continue." The Huskies will practice at 7 p.m. for the next three days at Huskie Stadium and at 3:30 p.m. Friday. Saturday will be the first of four two-practice days, with the team practicing at 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Practices are open to the public. "It was tiring but it feels good," said running back Garrett Wolfe, who missed the spring game with a shoulder injury, but practiced Monday. "We're very excited to get back out here amd compete." Running back A.J. Harris practiced Monday - he also missed the spring game with a shoulder injury. The Huskies open the season Sept. 3 at Michigan, the defending Big Ten champions. NIU players and coaches have high expectations entering the season with hopes to win their first Mid-American Conference championship since 1983. The Huskies have shared the West Division title three of the last four seasons. "Everyone on the team and everyone in DeKalb wants a MAC Championship," said running back Garrett Wolfe. "Going to a bowl game was nice, but the ring would be better if it said, 'MAC Champions," and not just, 'Silicon Valley Bowl Champions.'" Last season's Silicon Valley Football Classic was NIU's first bowl since the 1983 California Bowl. Wolfe was pleased with the team's performance on the first day. "I think it went very well as far as first days go," he said. "Offensively, we were very effective. We made a couple mental mistakes - that's a given (on the first day) - but it wasn't a lot at all." The players were happy to get some football in after summer conditioning. "In the summer we work so hard without too much football so to come out and play its fun," said Phil Horvath, who will compete for the starting quarterback job. "We had great enthusiasm for the first day and not too many mistakes for the first day, but there are definitely things we need to work on and improve." Horvath is one of four players competing to replace three-year starter Josh Haldi, who threw for 6,015 yards and 55 touchdowns in his career. "It's going to be tough (to replace Haldi)," Horvath said. "He was a great quarterback and he won a lot of games here. He didn't have too many turnovers and he scored almost everytime in the red zone." Zach Ullrich, Britt Davis and Dan Nicholson also are in the mix. "We'll all come out and try to do our best each day and that stuff will work itself out," Horvath said. Novak said he would name the starter in a week to 10 days. "We are going to keep sorting it down," Novak said. "We have to do it soon. I want to get down to two and get them more reps." Novak said the four each have different strengths - Horvath has the most experience, Ullrich has the off the field intangibles, Davis is the most athletic and Nicholson is the most pure passer. Horvath played the first four games of last season when Haldi had a stress fracture in his right foot.
Four-way QB battle under way
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