DeKALB – Newly promoted Northern Illinois defensive coordinator Joe Knowles had the best birthday present for a pair of twins from Immaculate Conception on Monday morning.
Knowles was on hand at Immaculate Conception in Elmhurst on Monday morning when he gifted both Khalil and Khali Saunders on their 17th birthdays with a football scholarship offer to NIU.
The Saunders twins, Class of 2019 seniors, were ecstatic. For Khalil, it was his first Division I offer.
“It’s a very exciting experience. It says a lot about the program who gives you your very first offer,” he said.
The Saunders twins, who reside in Bensenville, helped lead Immaculate Conception to back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017. Immaculate Conception won its most recent title at Huskie Stadium, the site of the 2017 IHSA football championships.
Both twins are two-way players – Khali plays wide receiver and outside linebacker; Khalil plays quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive back. Khali recorded a team-best 34 receptions, 632 receiving yards and nine touchdowns this season, while Khalil finished with four interceptions, five touchdowns at quarterback, catching 26 passes for 415 yards with four receiving touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns.
"Coach Knowles told us he loves how he sees us playing everywhere on the field and how we never come off the field," Khalil said. "He said we can both help out NIU a lot in the future making an impact on special teams and defense. He even mentioned I could maybe continue playing offense.
"You can tell coach Knowles is a great person who cares about your future on and off the field. He has outstanding character."
Khalil said his experiences during the IHSA championships at NIU and Huskie Stadium will come into factor when he eventually makes a decision on where he’ll continue his football career.
“I’ve been out to Huskie Stadium a few times before,” Khalil said. “They have amazing facilities and a state-of-the-art weight room. Winning the state title there is a big plus.”
While NIU marks Khalil’s first offer, his brother, Khali, has garnered more early interest with offers from Central Michigan and Iowa State. Khalil is confident future offers will come, however.
“I”m hoping more will come from this one,” Khalil said. “But I’m truly grateful to NIU.”
The Saunders twins will be on campus this weekend to visit for NIU’s "Junior Day," Khalil said.
Note: NIU coach Rod Carey has yet to officially announce Knowles as NIU's new defensive coordinator. Former defensive coordinator Kevin Kane left the team last Tuesday for the same position at Southern Methodist University. On Wednesday, The Daily Chronicle discovered Knowles is expected to be promoted to NIU defensive coordinator.