DeKALB – Each year, the goal of the Northern Illinois football team is to get to Ford Field in Detroit, home of the Mid-American Conference Championship Game.
In odd-numbered years from 2013-2021, the goal for high school football programs all across Illinois will be to get to Huskie Stadium, which will host the state finals.
Last week, NIU won the bid to host over Illinois State and Southern Illinois. When NIU was looking into bidding, Huskies football coach Dave Doeren said he was adamant NIU put in a bid.
Now, high school teams will see DeKalb as a destination – the same way the Huskies see Detroit.
“For us, our mission is to go to Detroit. So now, you’re going to have high schools talking about, ‘We want to be in DeKalb [Thanksgiving weekend],’ ” Doeren said. “It’s going to be a conversation piece for all these championship-level programs, for the goal of their season will be to end up here.”
The football facilities on NIU’s campus have seen an upgrade in recent years with the Yordon Center, which opened in 2007, while the Chessick Practice Center is scheduled to be completed by the start of the 2013 season.
Every other year starting in 2013, 16 teams will take the field the weekend of the state finals and will get the chance to see NIU’s campus, Huskie Stadium and other facilities. Included among all the players competing will be uncommitted Division I prospects.
To Doeren, NIU will have a recruiting advantage in that it’s not just the players walking around NIU and getting to see the facilities, but the athletes’ parents as well.
“Their parents are going to have a lot of dead time while their sons are doing what they do, and they’ll come in our building and check it out, and they’ll see all the things going on as well. They’ll be in there,” Doeren said. “So now, when we reach out to recruit that student-athlete, it’s not going to be, ‘We haven’t been up here in 15 years.’ Mom and dad are going to be the ones talking to their son about how great the place was when they were here.”
Since 1982, the University of Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium has hosted the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association football state championships.
Doeren was a Wisconsin assistant for five years before coming to DeKalb, and said being hosts of the state finals helped the Badgers’ coaching staff when it came to recruiting.
“Thousands of conversations that ‘Yeah, coach, we were here in the playoffs, or we were here in the whatever.’ You’d watch their film and you’d see the W on the field and be like, ‘Hey, this kid played in the playoffs,’ “ Doeren said. “And it was just, our home field was their destination. You can bring a kid in your office, and they look out the window, ‘I remember being out there, we beat so and so.’ “
Doeren did mention that hosting the finals might change recruiting in the aspect of when his staff might evaluate players. Should NIU’s staff watch a certain player over a Thanksgiving weekend in DeKalb, it would count toward an evaluation. Therefore, NIU’s coaches might have to decide if they want to go watch a player during the regular season when they could see him at state.
“There’s going to be a lot of, really, looking at who you think might make it during the year,” Doeren said. “Should we go see them in September when they’re probably going to be here in November? ... You’ll have to be smart about who you go see, I think.”