DeKALB – Of all the attributes ascribed to football players, neat isn’t the first one that comes to mind.
But in the Northern Illinois University football locker room at the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center, there is an 8x10 picture with the header: “What your locker should look like,” complete with the NIU jersey and shoes in their proper spots.
When the Daily Chronicle asked for a complete tour of the Yordon Center, which just turned 2 years old this month, we didn’t exactly know what to expect to find outside of the state-of-the-art equipment most Huskie fans already knew about.
It turns out the young building already has a few stories and legends. And history, along with neatness, weren’t left out of the building plan.
The spacious football locker room is a place fans rarely get to see, outside of a video floating around of University President Dr. John Peters leading the team in the fight song after a victory last season.
But the locker room, seemingly too young to even acquire dust, is blanketed in history.
Names of donors and famous former players adorn the lockers just below whichever current player uses that locker. Jeff Yordon, unsurprisingly, has locker No. 1. But other names appear, such as Michael “The Burner” Turner, Mike Korcek, Ryan Diem, George Bork and current wide receivers coach P.J. Fleck.
Just past the door the players normally enter is “The Boneyard.” The white fixtures in the shape of bones are affixed to the walls complete with scores such as “NIU 19, Alabama 16” and “NIU 20, Maryland 13” from 2003 serve as reminders of the biggest wins of the program’s history.
Take a right when exiting the locker room and you’ll find yourself heading toward the equipment room. Inside the equipment room is the result of a tradition you rarely hear about in college football.
There are helmets from Auburn, Iowa Sate and various other college football teams. When NIU plays a team for the first time, or when it plays a team that has updated its helmet, like Eastern Michigan has done four times, the Huskies exchange helmets with the team. Those helmets – cleaned and polished to a shine – end up resting on a very large set of shelves in the equipment room.
Just down the hall from the equipment room is the training room. In addition to all of the necessities, one of the rehab pools comes complete with a treadmill and a video monitor that athletes can watch their gate while they run in the pool and rehab an injury.
Upstairs is where the football team gets to work when it isn't on the field. Film rooms, meeting rooms and coaches’ offices surround the upper level, with the coaches’ offices looking out onto Huskie Stadium.
Every office has its own personal touch. NIU coach Jerry Kill’s office is filled with pictures with other coaches and his family, along with a large picture of former NIU coach Joe Novak holding up a trophy after winning the Silicon Valley Football Classic in 2004.
The meeting rooms are equally impressive with their theater seating, plush chairs and pictures of all-Mid-American Conference players on the walls.
The continuing narrative of the Yordon Center, which almost has been completely paid for, is how it has changed things at NIU. Two stories illustrate that best.
Jen Clark can remember what trailing in the weight room was like at Huskie Stadium when she was an assistant coach with the girls golf team.
“We could get a corner and that was what we had,” said Clark, now an event manager with NIU.
Now, with the weight room more than four times the size of the old one, multiple teams have ample room to workout at once. Former University of Miami running back Jarrett Payton reportedly said while on a tour of the facility earlier this year that the room was bigger and more impressive than the one at Miami.
Athletes run 40-yard dashes out one set of doors and into the daylight. Strength and conditioning coaches have offices they actually can work in rather than glorified closets. It is open all day, every day to the athletes and coaches and space is never an issue, something that was once impossible at NIU.
The other story is the one Kill tells about when he visited Novak about five years ago.
“Joe really didn’t have the facilities,” Kill said. “He recruited on his personality, the school’s personality, the academic reputation. Here, this is the first time I’ve had a facility. So it’s got to help [recruiting].”