DeKALB – It started as a chant that came out of nowhere during Joe Novak’s first season at Northern Illinois.
These days, the slogan “The Hard Way” is seen everywhere around the NIU football program. It’s on the back of the players’ helmets, written on receiver’s gloves and seen around the Yordon Center.
It started in the Novak era, continued under Jerry Kill, and Dave Doeren started featuring the saying more when he came in.
To Rod Carey, the slogan fits the program perfectly.
“Well, we’re not afraid of hard work. A lot of people think there are shortcuts to success and there isn’t, and it’s hard, otherwise everybody would do it,” Carey said. “That’s what I love about [the saying], because it completely fits.”
Mike Sabock was an NIU assistant from 1984 to 2007, getting one last cup of coffee when he worked as the Huskies’ tight ends/fullbacks coach leading up to the Orange Bowl.
Sabock remembers the saying beginning during the offseason leading up to Novak’s first year, when reserve quarterback Kenneth Williams started a chant one day during workouts.
It started catching on after games during the Novak era. These days, after a victory, the players do the chant in the locker room, which has these words in it – “What we do, we execute. Which way? The hard way. Which way? The hard way.”
“I remember Ball State, we had a big win down there, there’s Joe (Novak) in the middle of them, just jumping,” Sabock said. “Players are laughing and hooting and hollering after the chant. It was always after wins, they’d go in the locker room and start doing it.”
NIU players identify with the slogan because a lot of them were passed over by bigger schools. They didn’t get to NIU the easy way. The Huskies also practice outside on cold days like Friday, when other teams have the luxury of an indoor facility. Although the Huskies will have use of the Chessick Practice Center next season.
The Huskies identify with doing things the hard way.
“A lot of us here at Northern got here because we took a route that wasn’t the easist path. A lot of us were overlooked,” cornerback Sean Evans said. “It just goes with part of the mantra that we have. We’re that team that carries a chip on our shoulder every time we step on the field.”