DeKALB – BCS bowl games and a facility like the Chessick Center were just figments of everyone’s imagination during Craig Harmon’s playing days at Northern Illinois.
Fast forward nearly 15 years and it’s now a reality for Harmon, who returned to NIU as the Huskies’ tight ends/fullbacks coach back in January.
“It’s awesome to be back. This place is special to me and my family. My son, my wife was teaching him the fight song when he was real little, so this place is home to me,” Harmon said. “I met my wife [Megan, a former soccer player] here when I played here, I GA’d here. This is home, it’s great to be back and see all the changes.”
Harmon played quarterback at NIU from 1998 to 2000 and was a graduate assistant under Joe Novak in 2004 and 2005.
When Harmon came to DeKalb in the fall of 1998, the Huskies were in the midst of what would become a 23-game losing streak. An Orange Bowl berth or brand-new indoor facility were far-fetched dreams.
The long losing streak NIU endured in the early Novak years is a distant memory. There’s a winning tradition now.
When it comes to the losing streak, it was Harmon who ended it.
The then-freshman walk-on began fall camp as NIU’s sixth-string quarterback in 1998 – Novak’s third season. But after a series of injuries, he started the Huskies’ fourth game of the year against Ball State and was under center two weeks later on a cold, rainy Oct. 17, 1998 when NIU beat Central Michigan, 16-6, to end the losing streak after seeing the game called at halftime an hour at halftime because of the torrential downpour.
Northern Illinois’ students raided the field after the victory, ripped down the goalposts and carried one to the East Lagoon and the other to the Anthony Lorusso (formerly West) Lagoon.
“The starter [Chris Finlen] blew his collarbone in the fall scrimmage,” Harmon said. “One kid got mono, one kid tore his ulnar nerve. [Frisman Jackson] hurt his calf. I don’t know what the other injury was but there was another injury. It was a bug.”
Harmon would redshirt in 1999 and transferred to Division II Quincy after the 2000 season.
“I did it because I had played my freshman year, I wasn’t going to play here again and I wanted to play,” he said. “I wasn’t good enough to play here. I got to play and it was a great experience, and once you get that taste in your mouth you can’t get it out.”
Harmon did end up returning to the school as a GA, and said he still keeps in touch with Novak.
Harmon worked under former NIU running backs coach/special teams coordinator Mike Uremovich at the University of St. Francis, and attended some of NIU’s practices leading up to the Orange Bowl, where he got to know Rod Carey.
Harmon came to NIU after spending the 2013 season as the tight ends coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater and helping the Division III powerhouse to a national title.
Harmon played at both the FBS and Division II levels, and coached in the Division III, FCS, FBS and NAIA levels before coming to NIU.
“I’ve done it all and I think that’s great,” Harmon said. “I understand the different levels and there’s nothing wrong with that.”