John Nokes, one of Northern Illinois University's earliest National Football League draft choices and a retired Chicago firefighter, passed away July 19 after a battle with cancer. He was 69.
The 6-foot-3, 228-pound defensive stalwart lettered for three seasons (1970-72) on the NIU squad. Nokes was selected in the ninth round as a linebacker and 211th player chosen in the 1973 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.
He moved into the Northern Illinois starting lineup as a sophomore in 1970 and would earn starts at defensive end, defensive tackle, and outside linebacker the next two years. During the NIU Centennial Celebration in 1999-2000, Nokes was voted on the All-Century Decade team (1970-79) by a blue ribbon committee.
A three-sport athlete at Chicago Lakeview High School, Nokes earned varsity letters in football, basketball, and track and field. He played tight end on the Chicago Public League White Division championship eleven for coach Ray Jacobson as a senior in 1968.
"For his size, he had the quickest feet," said former NIU head football coach Jerry Ippoliti. "John was one of the best all-around athletes I coached at NIU."
Quite a statement since Ippoliti tutored such NIU Athletics Hall of Famers such as linebacker Larry Clark, quarterback/linebacker Bob Gregolunas, and fullback Mark Kellar---the 1973 NCAA Division I national rushing kingpin.
Then there was the "premature" end of Nokes' short-lived NFL career.
"It was training camp in the summer of 1973," Ippoliti recalled. "I got a phone call from one of the Philadelphia Eagles coaches, asking me 'where was John?' He just left (camp). At worst, the coach told me, John was a starter on special teams and projected to be their middle linebacker. When I next saw John, he told me he was homesick and missed Chicago."
Nokes returned home and would protect his beloved City of Chicago for three-plus decades as a member of the Chicago Fire Department. Eventually, Nokes became a District Fire Chief for the CFD. He also volunteered as an instructor for the Northeastern Illinois Public Safety Training Academy. He was a long-time youth football and volleyball coach.
He is survived by his wife, Janice, five children, and four grandchildren. All services are private.