KORCEK'S CORNER: Start the Heisman hype
Relevant observations, pertinent notes, questions, minutiae and Huskie Trivial Pursuit from your local, retired sports information director:
Opinion No. 1: Jordan Lynch for Heisman? Why not? The kid, his phenomenal numbers and the Northern Illinois program all deserve it. Just because some snarky Southeast or Big 12 conference media know-it-alls cannot spell M-A-C? Isn’t America the land of opportunity? How can you not admire Lynch’s blue collar, I’m-not-running-out-of-bounds approach to the game?
To be honest, I’m stunned the Chicago Tribune continues to list West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith every Saturday morning in its “Heisman Watch” section, particularly when the Trib admits “after a hot start, the Mountaineers and Smith have come crashing down to Earth.” You already have heard my mid-majors-get-no-respect shtick too many times. My advice: Cover people and things that are newsworthy and hot. That’s Jordan Lynch (and the Huskies).
As someone who has worked on a few Huskie Heisman Trophy campaigns – some successful (tailback LeShon Johnson, who was sixth in the Heisman balloting in 1993) and others not so successful (quarterback Stacey Robinson in 1990 and tailback Michael “The Burner” Turner in 2003), I understand the situation better than most. With the finalists to be announced Dec. 3, there’s not much time – even if the NIU-Toledo showdown appears on ESPN2 on Nov. 14. Running up 700 yards against mediocre UMass this week won’t excite the Heisman voters either.
If anything, any 2012 Heisman props for Lynch would create awareness for next season.
What’s the cliché? “Think ahead.”
Observation No. 1: Surely, you’ve read or seen NIU football coach Dave Doeren and others describe Lynch’s no-holds-barred, bull-in-a-china-shop running style similar to a linebacker carrying the ball. One must think the current Huskies linebacker regulars – Jamaal Bass, Victor Jacques and Tyrone Clark and their jobs – are secure. Or are they?
Question No. 1: Since the post-World War II era, has there ever been a starting NIU QB pull a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” and actually move to linebacker?
Answer No. 1: Ever hear of Bob Gregolunas (1973-75)?
This fiery, hard-nosed, 6-foot, 205-pounder went from being the Huskies’ season passing leader (27-for-58 attempts for 362 yards and three touchdowns in 1973) to NIU’s leading tackler (127 stops in 1975). Just remember, Gregolunas’ No. 1 job in 1973 was to hand off the ball to fullback Mark Kellar (the NCAA rushing champion that year) and tailback Jerry Latin – both NFL draft selections. Passing? Not in that era. But Gregolunas was a pretty smart, physical runner.
In 1975, NIU’s new defensive coordinator Pat Culpepper – a legendary linebacker during the Texas Longhorns’ glory days in the early 1960s – recognized that aggressive mindset in Gregolunas’ eyes and moved No. 11 to defense. In maybe the quickest and greatest transition or breakout year in school history, Gregolunas not only became the Huskies’ initial first-team All-MAC selection, but impressed pro scouts enough in his only year at linebacker to be NFL draft material as a sixth-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1976.
Jordan, don’t get any wild ideas. Stay at QB.
Gregolunas also made the 52-man All-Century Team during NIU’s Centennial (1999) and the All-Time Huskie Stadium Team (1995), at linebacker, naturally. Nobody played tougher. No. 11 deserves further consideration for induction into the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame, and soon. The honor is long overdue.
Observation No. 2: Considering the 8-1 start, including 5-0 mark in MAC play, and Lynch’s 2012 production (responsible for 21.3 ppg., 131.7 ypg. rushing, and 352.1 ypg. total offense, etc.) in his first season as a Huskies regular, it’s almost incomprehensible to believe that No. 6 spent two years on the bench as Chandler Harnish’s understudy. That’s not to diminish Harnish, his impact on NIU school records, or his role in the Huskies’ MAC and bowl crowns, but how did a so-called mid-major program have such a potent one-two QB punch on its 2011 depth chart? Can Southern Cal say that?
Question No. 2: Has there ever been a better NIU ex-back-up at QB?
Answer No. 2: Historically, several familiar Huskie quarterbacks come to mind. First-team Little All-America Bob Heimerdinger (1948-51) lettered as a freshman under the tutelage of then-senior QB Don Fortunato (1946-48), who later went on to be a free-agent signee with the NFL Chicago Cardinals in 1949.
In the early 1960s, Hall of Fame head coach Howard Fletcher moved QB Tom Beck (1959-61) to halfback for a skinny, but promising QB named George Bork (1960-63). Ironically, both Beck and Bork wound up in the College Football Hall of Fame. As the College Division era came to a close, senior QB Ron Christian (1963-65) earned first-team Little All-America honors after playing behind NIU Hall of Famers Bork (1963) and HB/QB Jack Dean (1964).
Lynch could be the best of this “ex-back-up” QB group. Best of all, No. 6 has the rest of 2012 and 2013 to go.
Question No. 3: Has there been a more productive player wearing the No. 6 jersey in Huskie history?
Answer No. 3: Only one other major-college No. 6 on offense comes to mind, that being NIU Hall of Famer and third-team AP All-America receiver Dave Petzke (1977-78), who made 148 receptions for 1,958 yards and 16 touchdowns in those two seasons and led the NCAA D-I in receiving as a senior (91 catches). The master of the sideline curl, Petzke and his disciplined routes drew comparisons to NFL great Raymond Berry. Uniform No. 6 was retired for about 15 years before it was “unretired” in the early 1990s. With his NCAA-leading 3,169 yards total offense, it’s difficult to argue with Lynch in the best of No. 6 discussion.
Petzke was a class act and fun to watch.
“It’s like going to a Frank Sinatra concert.” said Pat Culpepper in the day. “You’re not there to see the piano player.”
Question No. 4: Has any NIU QB ever won an individual NCAA I-A or FBS total offense crown?
Answer No. 4: Not at the FBS level. Heimerdinger (1,782 yards in 1950 and 1,775 yards in 1951), Bork (2,398 yards in 1962 and 2,945 yards in 1963), and Christian (2,307 yards in 1965) earned NCAA College Division total offense individual titles.
Time for the first FBS one, eh, Jordan?
• Mike Korcek is a former Northern Illinois University sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle.