Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois placed five players on the league’s Academic All-MAC Football Team announced Friday, with four more Huskies receiving honorable mention status on the squad, which is selected by the MAC faculty athletic representatives.
NIU starters Chandler Harnish (Bluffton, Ind./Norwell HS), Nabal Jefferson (Chicago, Ill./Marist HS), Ryan Neir (Roscoe, Ill./Hononegah HS), Keith Otis (Chicago, Ill./Hubbard HS) and Joe Pawlak (Grayslake, Ill./Grayslake HS) all earned first team Academic All-MAC status, while teammates Alan Baxter (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove HS), Adam Kiel (Wentzville, Mo./St. Dominic HS), Matt Krempel (Columbus, Ind./Columbus North HS) and Pat McAvoy (Cary, Ill./St. Viator HS) were honorable mention selections.
“Obviously to be the conference champs on the field and then to represent the MAC with nine Academic All-MAC players shows the balance we’re trying to have in our program,” said NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren. “I am very proud of our players to achieve this award.”
Harnish, who won the Vern Smith Leadership Award as the league’s MVP, earned Academic All-MAC honors for the third time in his record-setting career. The 2011 National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete award winner had a perfect 4.0 GPA in his graduate level business courses this fall after graduating from NIU with an undergraduate GPA above 3.5 last spring. Harnish, who won 22 games under center for the Huskies over the last two seasons, capped his career by winning MVP honors in Northern Illinois’ 38-20 victory over Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Pawlak, a three-year starter at offensive guard for NIU, and Jefferson, the Huskies’ starting nose guard, picked up Academic All-MAC honors for the second consecutive season. Pawlak, a senior, carries a 3.36 GPA in sociology/criminology while Jefferson, a Capital One Academic All-District selection by the College Sports Information Directors of America, has a 3.78 GPA in accountancy at NIU. He made 46 tackles and five tackles for loss as a junior.
Otis, a senior offensive tackle, and Neir, in his first season as NIU’s starting punter, made their Academic All-MAC debuts. Otis was a two-year starter on the offensive line that powered two of the best offensive teams in school history. A graduate student in sports administration, he posted a perfect 4.0 GPA in the fall after earning his undergraduate degree from NIU in corporate communications last spring. Neir was named the Special Teams MVP of the GoDaddy.com Bowl and finished the season with a 35.7-yard punting average on 62 kicks with more than half of his punts resulting in a fair catch and no return and 19 dropped inside the 20-yard line. Neir has a 3.94 GPA in finance.
The Academic All-MAC honor goes to MAC student-athletes who have excelled in athletics and academics. To qualify, a student-athlete must have at least a 3.20 cumulative GPA and have participated in at least 50 percent of the contests for that particular sport. First-year students and junior college transfers in their first year of residence are not eligible for the award.
Baxter, a junior defensive end with a 3.55 GPA in business administration, led the Huskies’ honorable mention choices. Baxter tied for the team lead in both quarterback sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (12.5) on the season. Senior graduate students who saw action in every game on special teams Kiel and McAvoy each posted a 3.25 GPA this fall in organizational management and marketing, respectively. Krempel, a reserve offensive lineman who was the lone NIU sophomore to earn recognition, carries a 3.69 GPA in pre-physical therapy.
In its first season under Doeren, the Huskies tied the school record with 11 wins while winning NIU’s first Mid-American Conference Championship since 1983. Northern Illinois goes into 2012 with nine consecutive victories, and will enter the season with the nation’s longest winning streak.