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Midweek #MACtion: Games showcase team to recruits

Published: Friday, Nov. 8, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Rob Winner — Northern Illinois running back Akeem Daniels (3) carries the ball 9 yards during the third quarter in DeKalb, Ill., Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. NIU defeated Toledo, 31-24.

Before almost every midweek game that Northern Illinois has played, Tom Matukewicz would make a phone call.

The former NIU assistant coach and current Toledo defensive coordinator would tell a potential high school recruit to watch on TV that night. Matukewicz always thought of the games as a showcase for the Huskies.

“One of my first conversatons with a kid, they’ll say, ‘Hey, I remember watching you guys vs. whoever on Tuesday,’ ” Matukewicz said. “It’s amazing how many recruits, recruits’ coaches and recruits’ relatives watch those midweek games.”

Playing games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in November has given NIU national TV exposure that it wouldn’t normally have by playing on Saturday. The Huskies, much like other Mid-American Conference schools, use it to their advantage in recruiting the next class of football players.

Former NIU assistant coach and current N.C. State defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen said he would tell recruits to watch the games to get a sense of how they would fit into NIU’s system at their position. When the result of the game went in the Huskies’ favor, social media only helped the cause.

“The national TV expsoure for recruiting was huge. Watch our offense, watch our defense, watch our quarterbacks, watch our linebackers,” said Nielsen, who was NIU’s recruiting coordinator in 2011 and 2012. “That’s the buzz across Twitter, Facebook and national media. When you won that game, you really pumped it out. It was definitely a good thing.”

More than half of the players on NIU’s current roster are from outside of Illinois. In recent years the Huskies have emphaiszed national recruiting, especially in southern states such as Florida and Alabama.

When talking to recruits whose families are not within driving distance of campus, Matukewicz said the opportunities to see the team play on TV can be a definite sell.

“Any time you’re going at a distance to school and realize that sometimes the family isn’t going to come to every game,” Matukewicz said, “being on national television is really going to be a difference-maker when he’s making that decision.”

Matukewicz and Nielsen both said one key point they’d bring up in recruiting home visits was the number of times NIU appeared on national TV.

“Any time you’re on national television, to a recruit it means a lot,” Nielsen said. “You’re put on a national stage and you want to bring that up. Those games come on, you use that as a recruiting tool.”

David Senior, a wide receiver from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who verbally committed to NIU in July, said the NIU coaches keep in contact and let him know when the Huskies will be on TV.

Senior said he’d be tuning in for the Huskies’ game against Ball State on Wednesday.

“I’ll definitely watch that,” Senior said. “I’ve gotta watch that one.”

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