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Former NIU players reunite for Huskies in the Pros roundtable

Rob Winner — Chronicle News Group
Northern Illinois' Larry English (51, center) sacks Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt (11, left) during the game at Huskie stadium at NIU in DeKalb, Ill., on October 18, 2008.
Rob Winner — Chronicle News Group Northern Illinois' Larry English (51, center) sacks Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt (11, left) during the game at Huskie stadium at NIU in DeKalb, Ill., on October 18, 2008.

Larry English has a very specific image of The Hard Way, the decades-long slogan for the NIU football team, means to him.

At a Huskies in the Pros Panel on YouTube on Monday as part of the Victor E. Bash, English was one of four former players, along with current coach Thomas Hammock serving as host, talking about their experiences in the NFL.

Michael Turner, a retired all-pro with the Chargers and Falcons, was also present, as was current NFL players Max Scharping (Texans) and Chad Beebe (Vikings).

When Hammock asked each player what The Hard Way meant, English told the story of when he was getting drafted. A scout told him about a player at a postseason showcase game and how angry he played.

"He said he played like that kid just grew up with pimples on his face, and had to walk through school and get clowned on every day," English said. "He walked out there angry. Like a pimple-faced angry kid. It's like that is the hard way."

That chip on the shoulder was the common thread, the former players said, from Turner's tenure and the 2003 season until when Scharping left in 2018.

Even though the team had much more success by the time Scharping arrived in terms of MAC title and better, indoor facilities, he said the team still had that chip. And that's the hard way.

"Like Larry said we were nationally recognized by the time I came in, we had played in four straight MAC title games," Scharping said. "But every season in the preseason ranking we were always third. Toledo was ahead of us. Western Michigan was ahead of us. That was our chip. We went into every season needing to prove we were the top dog."

Bebee also pointed out the role English and Turner played in the ascension of the program.

"Compared to Mike and Larry, they were the ones that set the path and set the thing in motion," Beebe said. "We had the indoor facilities. We had the jerseys. We didn't have it the hard way in that case. But the mentality stuck around and carried through."

Acting as moderator, Hammock asked each player if their NFL teammates had heard of NIU. Turner said they had not, and English said they only knew about it as Turner's alma mater.

Beebe said that most everyone on the Vikings has heard of it - in fact running back Dalvin Cook played for FSU in the 2016 Orange Bowl, three years after the Seminoles and Huskies played in the Orange Bowl.

Hammock asked the players their favorite memory. Scharping mentioned the 2018 MAC Championship against Buffalo, in which the Huskies came back from 29-10 down in the second half against undefeated Buffalo for the title.

Turner chose a pair of high profile regular-season wins.

"We don't have rings like these guys," Turner said. "But we mentioned the Maryland game already, and that was great with the crowd like it was. So I'm going to have to go with Alabama. To go down there was just a great team win."

English started speaking generally, then Hammock cut him off.

"Larry, didn't you have a six sack game," he asked with a big laugh.

English pointed out it was a five sack game, in a visit to Idaho.

"It was a good memory not only for the five sacks because we won," English said. "And better than the five sacks I had a touchdown that game. That's pretty rare."

Hammock then jumped back in, laughing again.

"You can say that. You're talking to former Huskies, not the media. It's OK to say it's the five sacks and the touchdown."

The mood stayed light as Hammock asked each player what they bought with their first signing bonus. For Scharping, he said it was a new truck.

Then it was time for Beebe, an undrafted free agent, to answer.

"What singing bonus," he said as the group laughed. "I'm still waiting on that. I'm just saving every penny. I'm not going to lie. I haven't bought too much."

English answered it was a Mercedes-Benz and laughed, saying it was a mistake. He sold it two years later he said, at a loss.

Turner answered at first that, as a fifth-round pick, just bought a Chrysler 300 and some furniture. But both English and Hammock pushed him through laughter to say what he bought with his first big contract.

"A Benz," he said as all five laughed.

The complete video is available on the Huskies YouTube channel. The fundraising auction for the Victor E. Bash is also still ongoing.

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