The Northern Illinois football team just completed its best season in recent memory, winning its second consecutive Mid-American Conference championship and ending the 2012 season with a berth in the Orange Bowl.
The talent on the 2012 team was mainly built from former coach Jerry Kill’s first two recruiting classes in 2008 and 2009. As with any recruiting class a Mid-American Conference school brings in, these groups were mainly two-star players who were overlooked by the bigger schools. Some had BCS offers but decided to head to DeKalb and spurn the big-time programs.
A good number of players left NIU before their eligibility was up, and some will be counted on to make a big impact as fifth-year seniors in 2013.
The Daily Chronicle took a look back at the 2008 and 2009 groups. Here’s the full list of players, and what they’ve accomplished in DeKalb.
Jerry Kill’s first recruiting class was small, with only 14 players. What stands out is how much talent Kill was able to get from three walk-ons – cornerback Rashaan Melvin, defensive end Sean Progar and tight end Jason Schepler.
All three ended up earning scholarships, and played a huge part in the Huskies’ success over the past four seasons, which culminated with NIU’s berth in the Orange Bowl.
Melvin was NIU’s top corner the past two years, leading the MAC and setting an NIU single-season record with 17 pass breakups as a senior, after leading the Huskies with nine in 2011.
Progar originally committed to Michigan, but his scholarship was pulled when Rich Rodriguez took over for Lloyd Carr after the 2007 season. With all his other offers no longer there, Progar came to NIU as a preferred walk-on. He would go on to have a stellar four years in DeKalb after redshirting during the 2008 season, finishing with 24 sacks, and was a two-time All-MAC selection and four-year starter.
Schepler overcame a knee injury to play a big part in NIU’s running game as a senior, and was one of the team’s leaders.
Another player who came to NIU as a walk-on in 2008 was Ryan Neir, who was NIU’s punter the past two seasons.
Walk-ons played a key role in this class, which featured a number of players who left the team before their eligibility was up.
Rivals ranked this class, which didn’t feature a single three-start recruit, 12th in the MAC. Scout had the group last in the conference.
Here’s a look at the rest of the Huskies’ 2008 recruiting class:
Darnell Bolding, LB: Junior college product spent two seasons as a reserve linebacker, totaling 40 tackles.
Me’co Brown, RB: One player that was able to get on the field and make a real impact as a true freshman, running for 510 yards as a true freshman in 2008 and another 645 in 2009. However, that was it for Brown in DeKalb as he would leave the program after the 2009 season.
Adam Coleman, DT: Had offers from Duke and Stanford, but didn’t start a game as a Huskie. Spent 2008-2010 on the defensive line before moving to tight end his senior year.
Maurice Coon, DE: Was recruited by Kill at Southern Illinois before signing with the Huskies. Redshirted in 2008 before transferring.
Kiaree Daniels, DB: The older brother of current Huskie running back Akeem Daniels, Kiaree spent three seasons as a reserve defensive back after transferring from Highland Junior College in Kansas.
Tommy Davis, Athlete: Started 14 games at safety as a sophomore and five as a junior before transferring to Illinois for his fifth season. With the Fighting Illini in 2012, Davis spent the year as a reserve and had 21 tackles. Davis was also Illinois’ main punt returner, returning 11 punts for a total of 26 yards.
Dan Edem, TE: Originally committed to North Dakota, but switched when NIU came on late. Spent his career in DeKalb primarily as a special teams player, leaving the program after the 2010 season. Transferred to Northern Iowa for his junior and senior seasons, where he was a reserve linebacker.
Victor Jacques, LB: Late signee spent his freshman year as a fullback before moving to linebacker as a sophomore. Was a reserve from 2009-2011 before taking over the starting middle linebacker spot this season, when he finished with 47 tackles.
Brian Lawson, DL: Rich East product started seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2009. Spent 2010 as a reserve before leaving the program.
Chase Mejia, WR: Was a first-team all-state pick in Missouri as a high school senior. Enrolled early and participated in spring 2008 practice, but his NIU career didn’t last long, as he was dismissed from the team before the season. Spent the 2009 season at Missouri State.
Logan Pegram, OL: Chose NIU over Colorado State. Started 22 games for the Huskies his sophomore and junior years, and was expected to start at center in 2012. However, Pegram suffered a lower leg fracture in spring practice and missed the entire season.
Brandon Rogers, QB: Highly touted signal-caller originally planned to attend Kansas, before NIU landed him late. However, Rogers never had much of an impact with the Huskies, as he redshirted the 2008 season before leaving the program.
Kevin Sabock, LB: The son of former longtime Huskies assistant Mike Sabock, who came back and helped coach NIU during the Orange Bowl, Kevin Sabock came to NIU the year his dad left. After his Huskies career ended after the 2009 season because of injuries, Sabock went on to become a student coach for the Huskies, and was part of the Orange Bowl staff.
Jody Van Laanen, S: Was a Joe Novak recruit who stuck with the new staff. Redshirted the 2008 season, and spent 2009 and 2010 as a backup safety before leaving the program.
Kill’s first full recruiting class produced a number of talented players who would play a big part in NIU’s success the past two years. It was also a much bigger class, with 28 players.
Quarterback Jordan Lynch set numerous school records in 2012, and will be expected to do big things as a senior in 2013. Martel Moore and Perez Ashford were nice contributors at the wide receiver spot, linebacker Tyrone Clark had 86 tackles in 2012, while Alan Baxter led the Huskies with 9.5 sacks last year. Matt Krempel and Jared Volk were two of NIU’s five starters on the offensive line in the Orange Bowl.
At the time, recruiting sites certainly didn’t look at NIU’s class of 2009 as a difference-making class. Scout had the group eighth in the conference.
Here’s a look at the entire 2009 recruiting class, and what they’ve accomplished at NIU:
Zach Anderson, DL: Early commit was looked at as an athletic lineman who had other MAC offers. Spent 2010 and 2011 as a reserve and saw action in six games this season, totaling six tackles.
Perez Ashford, WR: Ashford had BCS interest, receiving offers from Iowa and Syracuse, as well as other MAC schools. Played as a true freshman and caught a total of 110 passes over his four years in DeKalb, with a career high of 47 as a senior.
Alan Baxter, DE: Made a nice impact at NIU, his only FBS offer out of Buffalo Grove High School. As a senior, Baxter led the Huskies with 9.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, and was a first team All-MAC selection. Didn’t use a redshirt year, and finished his career with 16 sacks.
Devon Butler, LB: Butler had three BCS offers – Kansas State, Rutgers and Wisconsin coming out of Miramar, Fla. Was a third-team All-MAC pick for the Huskies’ MAC West champion squad in 2010 before sitting out the 2011 season after being injured in an offseason shooting. He was set to compete for a starting linebacker spot in 2012, but was dismissed from the team in July.
Tyrone Clark, LB: St. Louis product sat out 2011 because of a personal issue, but was one of NIU’s key defensive players this past season. Clark had 86 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and was a second team All-MAC selection.
Jordan Delegal, LB: Came to NIU via Joliet Junior College after beginning his NCAA career at Marshall. Started 14 games at outside linebacker as a senior in 2011, finishing third on the team with 82 tackles.
Sean Evans, CB: Florida product was a late commit, and NIU was his only offer. Started at corner in both the MAC Championship and Orange Bowl as a junior, finishing the season with an interception and seven pass breakups.
Nick Groeniger, TE: Junior college transfer spent two seasons as a reserve tight end.
A.J. Hill, QB: One of three three-star recruits in this class, Hill, not Lynch, was the highest-rated QB out of NIU’s 2009 signees. Spent two seasons at NIU before transferring to Southern Illinois. Hasn’t yet started a game in Carbondale, and will be a senior in 2013.
Nabal Jefferson, DL: An overlooked product who played as a freshman despite having just one BCS offer. Started every game at defensive tackle for the Huskies his senior season, finishing the 2012 campaign with 58 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Started 25 games during his time in DeKalb.
Kyle Jenkins, DL: A junior college transfer, Jenkins spent most of his career as a reserve. In 2011, Jenkins finished with 29 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Anthony Johnson, WR: Moore’s teammate at Earl Warren High School in San Antonio. Spent his three years at NIU as a redshirt and reserve before leaving the program because of academics before the 2012 season.
Antione Kirkland, RB: Redshirted in 2009 and spent his sophomore year as a reserve before leaving the program.
Matt Krempel, OL: As a junior in 2012, Krempel split time at right tackle before starting the final three games of the season.
Jordan Lynch, QB: He had offers to play for Big Ten schools, but NIU was the only school to offer Lynch a scholarship to play quarterback. The decision worked out pretty well. In his first year as a starter in 2012, Lynch set numerous school records, setting the NCAA single-season record for rushing yards for a QB with 1,815. Earned the Vern Smith Leadership Award as the MAC MVP and had 4,953 yards of total offense. A lot will be expected from Lynch as a senior in 2013.
Martel Moore, WR: A two-star recruit with a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, Moore had a great senior season in 2012, finishing with 75 receptions for 1,083 yards and 13 touchdowns, earning first team All-MAC honors. Ended his career with 178 catches, 2,544 yards and 24 touchdown catches.
Stephen O’Neal, DE: Redshirted the 2009 season, and has spent the past three seasons as a reserve.
Jon Phillips, DL/OL: Dixon native redshirted the 2009 season before leaving the program.
Riley O’Toole, WR: Redshirted the 2009 season, leaving the program before the 2010 campaign.
George Rainey, LB: Switched to defensive end his sophomore year, and had 26 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss as a reserve this season. Has a good shot to earn a starting job in 2013.
Daniel Rodriguez, WR: Miami product spent some time with the first-team offense during August of his freshman year, but left the team and the game of football before the 2009 season.
Ryan Salerno, K: The younger brother of former Huskies kicker Mike Salerno, Ryan Salerno spent 2009 in DeKalb before leaving the team.
Chris Smith, DB: Another three-star recruit, the junior college transfer saw a good amount of playing time at NIU, starting 26 games during his two seasons at the school. Had three interceptions and 15 pass breakups as a senior in 2010.
Donald Smith, DB: Chris Smith’s twin brother, Smith was a backup defensive back in 2009 and 2010.
Jared Volk, OL: Volk only had FCS offers, and committed to NIU in December of 2008. Started seven games as a junior in 2012, and will be in line to be one of the Huskies’ two starters at the position in 2013.
Dominique Ware, CB: Has spent the past three seasons as a reserve. Had 29 tackles and three pass breakups in 2012.
Anthony Wells, DE: The other three-star recruit in this class, Wells had offers from three other MAC schools. Had 27 tackles, four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss for NIU’s Orange Bowl team. Started four games this past season and should open up 2012 as a starting defensive tackle. Came to NIU as a defensive end before moving to defensive tackle in 2011.
Josh Wilber, P: Spent two years as the Huskies’ punter after coming over from an Arizona junior college. Averaged 40.1 yards per punt with a long of 57.