CHICAGO – One year ago Alex Kube didn’t know he could be a leader.
The junior linebacker from north suburban Cary didn’t have the trust of his teammates or the coaching staff of the Northern Illinois football team.
But then Kube read Tony Dungy’s book, “Uncommon: Finding your path to significance,” and his life changed.
“I wasn’t concerned with my performance in the classroom,” Kube said. “It was football, football and more football. The book told me what I need to do to be a better person. This year I had a 3.0 grade-point average; I’ve never had a 3.0 before.”
As Kube has proved a lot can change in a year.
The Huskies went from an also rans in 2007 to a bowl team under first year coach Jerry Kill last year.
When NIU athletic director Jeff Compher stood at the 2008 football media day at Harry Carry’s Italian Steakhouse & Bar, he had no idea that one year later he would return to the famous Chicago eatery on Monday with an Independence Bowl ring.
Compher also had no idea he would field an unusual request for additional funds from Kill, who proposed each member of the team should have a copy of the book that helped Kube find his direction in life.
“We didn’t budget for the book,” said Compher, who like Kill is an avid reader. “But I knew we would find a way to figure it out. I love the proactive approach to leadership and thought it was a great idea.”
So when double sessions turn the preseason practice schedule into a daily grind, NIU will read from Dungy’s book. It will take in the lessons of a coach that has overcome being fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and endured personal tragedy to rise to the top of his profession as a Super Bowl-winning coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
There will be plenty of time for X’s and O’s at camp, making sure players are well conditioned and prepared for the season. But there also will be time for everyone to reflect on what they are doing in the classroom and in their lives. There will be moments to prepare players to make sure they can put themselves in the right situation off the field and in the classroom.
“When you read the book you realize this is what you are supposed to be doing,” Kill said.
“You are supposed to be doing the right thing, not what other people want you to do.”
Junior Defensive end Jake Coffman enlisted in the U.S. Marines out of high school at Forreston. He served two tours in the Middle East and is part of Kill’s Leadership Council.
“I’m excited to read it,” Coffman said. “Sometimes you get caught up in the grind that is college football. I’m interested in using the book to broaden the way I look at life.”
For senior guard and Indianapolis native Jason Onyebuagu, reading the book is an extension of Kill’s philosophy. Onyebuagu said the second-year coach wants his players to become better at football but also stresses that they encounter personal growth off the field.
“Coach is always on us for school work,” Onyebuagu said. “Football is just a bonus we are here for school. We’ve got to take pride in how we handle ourselves as people. Coach always stresses for us to be good people.”
On Wednesday when the team reports to the Yordon Center at 2 p.m. for the first preseason practice, they will start that process; one chapter at a time.