DeKALB – There was plenty of activity in the Chessick Center on Wednesday night.
With Northern Illinois hosting a one-day football camp for high school and junior college students, many of the athletes had big smiles putting on their Huskies camp jersey while many of the coaches from 18 schools – including Power 5 programs Arkansas and Penn State – were doing their reminiscing with old friends.
“We’re really thankful that they reached out and wanted to do one here, knowing we’re here in the Chicagoland area,” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “I think it speaks to what we’ve accomplished and who we are and a mutual respect that we have for all of the staffs that are here.”
While satellite camps, being a guest at a camp put on by a different school, made news and drew criticism in past years – thanks partly to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh – Carey said that he didn’t see many negatives in bringing in other schools to help put on drills and get a look at players from Illinois.
“I don’t see a disadvantage to [a shared camp], I really don’t,” Carey said. “The more eyes that are on kids is better for them. I think it gives kids an opportunity to not go to as many camps as they have to. With that being said, we still like it being on our campus. We’re lucky it is today. I think maybe if you have to go all the time, there may be a disadvantage that way for the institution. ... Satellite camps have been going on for a long, long, long time – way longer than I think Harbaugh gets credit for. Way longer than that.”
The output of players from the state turned out to be more than the 300 that were pre-registered, with many of the 317 in attendance wearing undershirts from their high school before putting on either a red, black or white NIU uniform.
The adage of football being a fraternity was on full display, with everyone greeting each other with a warm handshake or familiar hug. Penn State offensive line coach Matt Limegrover was a coach for the Huskies from 2008-10 under Jerry Kill before going to Minnesota in 2011. Former Huskies offensive lineman Trevor Olson, who started 54 games for NIU from 2008-11, was at the camp as an assistant coach with Southern Illinois.
While Penn State coach James Franklin, who led the Nittany Lions to an 11-3 record and a trip to the Rose Bowl last season, was not made available for comment, he did mention to a different coach that he was impressed by NIU’s indoor facilities.
Carey said he has a good relationship with Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who is from Prophetstown. In 2014, Bielema’s Razorbacks defeated Carey’s Huskies, 52-14, in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“We’ve been so good in the North recruiting, since I’ve gone to Arkansas,” Bielema said. “A lot of the SEC schools, they don’t do a lot of recruiting up here, so it’s kind of nice to come in and not compete against them.”
While Bielema is from the state and has coached in nearby Wisconsin and Iowa, Illinois hasn’t been a hotbed of recruiting for the Razorbacks. Since becoming the head coach, Bielema has had just one player from Illinois on the roster – current freshman offensive lineman Dalton Wagner (Richmond-Burton). Penn State currently has three players from the state on its roster – junior defensive lineman Colin Castagna (Barrington), senior kicker Tyler Davis (St. Charles North) and sophomore linebacker Frank Di Leo (St. Ignatius Prep).
For NIU, Wednesday was the first of eight camps scheduled for the month. Carey said that having coaches from different programs is a good thing not only for the players, but also for the coaches, too.
“You run a camp, first and foremost, to help get [players] better at football and to spread our game,” Carey said. “The next piece, there’s an evaluation piece to it and so we go about that and we have 300 or north of that, so you better be moving because it’s a lot of people to evaluate. ... When you have a bunch of other staffs here, you’re going to run a bunch of other drills and you may hear it coached a different way or may even introduce a different drill that maybe they haven’t used and you may learn that way. That’s a huge benefit of having other coaches around.”