A season of “firsts” for the Northern Illinois football program continued Thursday as for the first time in NIU history, three Huskie football players were named to the Capital One Academic All-America© Division I Football Team as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
The selection of defensive end Alan Baxter to the first team and noseguard Nabal Jefferson and tight end Jason Schepler to the second team gave Northern Illinois three selections to the first and second teams, the most of any NCAA Division I team.
“It’s a year of firsts for NIU football with our first BCS Bowl Bid and first 12-win season, but even more prestigious is to have three Academic All-Americans in the same year when we’ve never even had two [in the same year] before,” said NIU head coach Rod Carey.
“I’m extremely proud of this institution and these three young men and how they have represented our program. Our entire university should be proud because this is an elite list and to have three players on it say a lot about our program and the type of student-athlete in our program.”
Buffalo Grove, Ill. product Baxter (Buffalo Grove HS), a finance major in the NIU College of Business with a 3.61 grade point average, is the Huskies’ first first-team Academic All-American since 2001, and is only the second first-team Capital One Academic All-American in school history. He joins Thomas Hammock, a two-time first-team Academic All-America selection for the Huskies in 2000 and 2001, with that distinction.
Baxter ranks second in the Mid-American Conference in quarterback sacks with 9.5 and has 11 tackles for loss to lead a Northern Illinois defense that ranks 11th in the country in sacks and ninth in tackles for loss. He has 10 quarterback hurries and leads all NIU defensive linemen with 58 tackles.
“Alan Baxter has had a tremendous year on the field, he’s one of our conference leaders in sacks and the way he represents NIU in the classroom and in everything he does is just as impressive,” Carey said. “I’m very happy to see him receive this honor.”
Jefferson, a senior from Chicago, Ill. and Marist High School, earned a spot on the Capital One Academic All-America second team with his 3.78 GPA in accountancy. Jefferson, who returned from New York City, where he was named one of 15 National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Award winners for 2012, has 56 tackles and six tackles for loss on the season.
“Nabal’s story has been told a couple of times this year, and it is a great one,” Carey said. “He has overcome so much in his life that it is a credit to him that he has put himself in position to be named Academic All-American.”
Schepler has been a dominating blocker for the Huskies in 2012, helping power the NIU rushing attack to 250.2 yards per game, ninth in the country, and the Huskies rank 15th in total offense. The electrical engineering major from Sycamore, Ill., leads Northern Illinois with 58 pancake blocks and carries a 3.86 GPA.
“Jason Schepler is probably the quietest, toughest, strongest leader I’ve ever been around,” Carey said. “He has had a fine year on the field, and it’s great to see him finally get recognized for what he has done.”
Prior to the selection of Baxter, Jefferson and Schepler this season, Northern Illinois has had just nine football student-athletes named Academic All-Americans all-time, with just six since the school became an NCAA Division I FBS institution in 1973. Patrick Stephen (1996, 1997, 1998) and Hammock (2000, 2001) received the award multiple times during their careers. The last Huskie selected by CoSIDA as an Academic All-American was P.J. Fleck, who was named to the second team in 2003.
To be eligible for Academic All-America consideration, a student-athlete must be a varsity starter or key reserve, maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.30 on a scale of 4.00, have reached sophomore athletic and academic standing at his current institution, and be nominated by his sports information director.