It took less than 10 seconds for Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey to shoot down the idea that the recruiting class of 2013 was “his class.”
Before he spoke about individual recruits and answered questions from the media Wednesday at the Yordon Center, Carey said this class was the product of the hard work of his staff, not just him.
Carey is right: It wasn’t his class. This was Dave Doeren’s class.
Ten players off the 24-recruit class were verbally committed to NIU before Doeren left DeKalb for North Carolina State in early December. While NIU would not clarify who is on scholarship and who are walk-ons, it’s safe to say all 10 of those recruits filled scholarship spots, taking up a majority of the 14 scholarships NIU had available for this recruiting cycle.
But Carey’s recruiting efforts over the past two months weren’t solely focused on this year’s class. He was looking even further into the future.
“You’re going to recruit ahead, that’s just how we do it today,” Carey said. “I still have a strong belief that you go and you’re recruiting seniors this time of year. You’re recruiting those guys, you’re looking forward to 2014. ... Did we get out in 2014 and recruit? You bet we did.”
And that set of recruits – the class of 2014 – could prove to be a defining group for the program. With more scholarships available and Carey fully entrenched as NIU’s coach, that will be the first time he puts his mark on the future of NIU football.
This year, the Huskies were able to capitalize a little off the national attention that NIU’s Orange Bowl appearance brought to the program, but, as shown by NIU’s class, many of the nation’s recruits already had verbally committed to schools.
Moving forward, NIU’s success no longer will be a secret to any football prospect starting the recruiting process. The Orange Bowl appearance, consecutive Mid-American Conference championships and finishing the season in The Associated Press’ Top 25 are notable accomplishments that speak to recruits.
The achievements of quarterbacks Jordan Lynch and Chandler Harnish, who have thrived in NIU’s spread offense, make NIU an even more attractive option for dual-threat signal-callers.
“It’s still tough for them to take a player away from the Big Ten,” NCSA recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “But battling other MAC schools, having the success at quarterback really helps them and puts them among the elite schools, quarterback-wise, in the conference.”
NIU fans can learn a little from recent history. Former coach Jerry Kill was hired in December of 2008 and his first recruiting class, signed two months later, produced only a few players of note in Sean Progar, Jason Schepler and Rashaan Melvin, all of whom originally were walk-ons. To be fair, NIU also was coming off a 2-10 season.
But Kill’s next class in 2009 laid the foundation for NIU’s Orange Bowl season, featuring a group of playmakers such as Martel Moore, Perez Ashford, Nabal Jefferson, Tyrone Clark and Alan Baxter. Oh, and the guy who finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting this season.
Carey found himself in the same circumstances as Kill did five seasons ago, having to spend much energy persuading committed recruits to stay. But Carey comes into a program that has made huge strides in recent years, making his sales pitch to recruits much easier than what Kill had in the early stages of his coaching tenure with the Huskies.
NIU has even started putting together its class of 2014 already, gaining a verbal commitment from Sycamore receiver Ben Niemann late last year.
The class of 2013 could very well exceed expectations. But the class of 2014 is the one to focus on.
That will be Carey’s first class. And it could be the one that leads NIU back to a prominent bowl.
• Ross Jacobson is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @RossJacobson.