With back-to-back Mid-American Conference championships, five straight bowl trips, including the school’s first BCS bowl bid, the bar has been set pretty high.
“I’d rather have the expectations high because then you’re going to be going after good things, not just mediocrity,” said NIU head coach Rod Carey, who begins his first full season as NIU head coach in 2013. “Everyone says expectations and stress is a bad thing. I don’t view those two things as bad. There’s the stress of a football game, but we’re playing a game.”
No one has higher expectations for NIU than the players themselves. They are going to use this year’s spring to build on the success of last season, and set the stage for loftier accomplishments in 2013.
“Our expectations are going to continue to go higher and higher as we keep reaching more and more of our goals, like going to a BCS bowl,” said offensive lineman Matt Krempel.
“We really have high hopes and expectations for next year. Since we have so many people returning, especially on offense, we’re going to really grow and get closer during spring ball.”
The upcoming 2013 season isn’t about equaling or surpassing the success of 2012. It’s about moving the program forward, and Carey believes this season provides a good opportunity to accomplish that, but says this will not be the Huskies’ last chance.
“This isn’t the only opportunity we’re ever going to have. That’s the best way to say it,” he said. “Is this a good opportunity? Are we excited about it? Absolutely. Are we going to take advantage of it and give our best effort? You bet. I’m not going to minimize what’s been done around here for 10 years by saying this year is it. It’s not. This place has been good for a long time.”
No one is immune from high expectations, even the league’s player of the year.
While it might seem difficult to believe quarterback Jordan Lynch can top his stellar 2012 campaign, which saw him amass 4,953 of total offense and earn All-America honors, Carey believes he can.
“It’s pretty hard to do better than he did last year. To say to a kid, ‘Hey, go out there and do better than you did last year,’ I don’t know that you can do that with a blanket statement,” he said. “You’ve got to give him specific, small, detailed goals that lead to giving yourself a chance in the fourth quarter. That’s what he’s about, that’s what we’re about.”
In addition to Lynch, one of the strengths of the 2013 Huskies is the offensive line, which returns of all five starters.
That unit, which didn’t have a single returning starter a year ago, exceeded expectations in 2012 but their performance in the Orange Bowl didn’t sit well with them. “They were roughed up a little bit in that Orange Bowl,” Carey said. “That didn’t leave a real good taste in their mouth. That’s been a good thing for them to have that taste in their mouth this offseason.”
While Northern Illinois returns every starter on the offensive line, the defensive front four was hit hard by graduation. Gone are multi-year starters Alan Baxter, Nabal Jefferson and Sean Progar. The competition on the defensive line will be intense this spring.
“There’s a lot of guys coming back especially on the D-line,” said defensive end George Rainey. “I feel the competition is going to be great because none of us have played a lot, but a lot of us have a little playing time. We’re going to compete.”
There are several position battles on the offensive side of the ball to keep an eye on this spring. The loss of tight end Jason Schepler cannot be overstated. Considered the best blocker on the team last season, Schepler was an integral part of NIU’s run game. A challenge has been issued to returners Luke Eakes and Desroy Maxwell to fill Schepler’s role.
The wide receiver position will also be a position of interest with the graduations of Perez Ashford and Martel Moore. Da’Ron Brown and Tommylee Lewis figure to play a major role in the Huskie passing game in 2013.
“We’ve got Da’Ron Brown and Tommylee Lewis coming back,” Carey said. “They played a lot for us. Both those guys are more than capable to do as much if not more than Martel [Moore] and PA [Perez Ashford] did. Their time was a little more limited because we did have Martel and PA much of the year. Now this year, they’re going to be full time.”
Spring practice, which was pushed back a week because of to the extended winter in the Midwest, continues through Saturday, April 20, with the inaugural Huskie Bowl. The annual Spring Game will be held Saturday, April 13, at Huskie Stadium.
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.