Following the completion of the National Football League draft this past weekend, four members of the winningest senior class in Northern Illinois football history signed free agent contracts with National Football League teams.
Wide receivers Martel Moore (San Antonio, Texas/Earl Warren HS) and Perez Ashford (Shaker Heights, Ohio/Shaker Heights HS), defensive end Alan Baxter (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove HS) and cornerback Rashaan Melvin (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan HS) signed over the weekend and will report to NFL rookie camps this month.
Moore joined former Huskie linebacker and 2011 senior Pat Schiller with the Atlanta Falcons, while Ashford will return home as a member of the Cleveland Browns. Baxter will play outside linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Melvin signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
NIU head coach Rod Carey said the 2012 seniors have left an indelible mark on the Huskie program.
“We’re really excited to see these guys get a chance at the next level,” Carey said. “They were a part of the winningest senior class in school history, helped us go to five bowl games and win two MAC championships. They all deserve this opportunity. I know they’ll make their mark on the NFL the same way they made their mark at NIU.”
Moore and Ashford formed one of the most formidable receiving duos in the Mid-American Conference over the past four years.
Moore finished his Huskie career ranked second all-time at NIU in receiving yards (2,544) and touchdown catches (24) after catching 75 passes for 1,083 yards and 13 TDs as a senior. The first team All-MC selection had five 100-yard receiving days in 2012 and made one of the Huskies’ plays of the year on a 73-yard touchdown catch and run versus Toledo. Ashford made many of NIU’s most spectacular catches during his career with 110 catches for 1,192 yards in his four-year career. He added 410 return and 83 rushing yards to total 1,685 all-purpose yards, and was a second team All-MAC choice in 2011.
Baxter earned first team All Mid-American Conference honors as a senior after leading NIU in quarterback sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (11.5) to rank fourth in the league in sacks. He added 60 tackles and finished his career with 142 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks in 52 games. Baxter, an accountancy major, became the second Huskie football player ever to be honored as a first team Academic All-American by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
After starting his career at Northern Illinois as a walk-on, Melvin finished with 35 pass break-ups, six interceptions and 172 tackles, including 117 solo as a two-year starter for the Huskies. Melvin ranks second all-time at NIU in pass break ups and set the school single season record with 17 in 2012. In the 2013 Discover Orange Bowl game, Melvin made a career high 10 tackles, six solo, and forced a fumble.
Progar was a three-year starter at defensive end who garnered All-MAC honors in each of those seasons. He ranks third in career sacks with 24 and is eighth in tackles for loss with 39.5. Progar made 170 tackles, forced five fumbles and recovered three in 54 games at defensive end. He also served as team captain as a junior and a senior.
With former Falcons running back Michael Turner on the free agent market, the 2012 seniors join former Huskies Schiller, Chandler Harnish (Indianapolis Colts), Nathan Palmer (Indianapolis Colts), Larry English (San Diego Chargers), Doug Free (Dallas Cowboys), Scott Wedige (Arizona Cardinals) and Tracy Wilson (Tennessee Titans) in NFL camps this spring.
The 2012 seniors concluded their careers by leading NIU to its second straight Mid-American Conference Championship.
With a 12-2 record, a perfect 8-0 Mid-American Conference record and a 12-game winning streak, NIU earned a spot in the Discover Orange Bowl to become the first MAC team to play in a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game. Entering the fourth quarter of the Orange Bowl game, Northern Illinois trailed ACC Champion Florida State just 17-10.
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.