WR/KR Dan Sheldon

2002 Statistics

Coach: Joe Novak
28-50, 7 years
2002 Record: 8-4
at South Florida LOST 6-37
at Wisconsin LOST 21-24
at Ball State WON 41-29
at Miami OH WON 48-41
at Western Michigan WON 24-20
at Eastern Michigan WON 49-21

2002 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2003 Outlook

Every season there is a team from the mid-majors that makes some noise. Tulane, Toledo, Fresno State and Marshall have all recently worn the glass slipper. This year could easily be Northern Illinois. Looking up and down the depth charts, it is amazing how many young players are in key roles.

The schedule will be challenging but allows the Huskies to bark early. The non-conference slate of Maryland, (at) Alabama, and Iowa State proves that Novak is serious about taking this program to the next level. With players like Sheldon, Duffy and Michael Turner, the Huskies will be in every game. That being said, we feel this is a case of a solid team biting off a bit more than they can chew. Once the MAC games come, the Husky secondary will cost them against Miami (Ohio), Western Michigan and/or Marshall. This squad will win a few they shouldn't to make heads turn, but, simultaneously, lose to a few they should (eventually with hindsight) beat. Overall, NIU will have a tremendous year and the offense will lead this team to a bowl game and probable Top 25 finish. Bigger dreams may have to wait, for now.

Projected 2003 record: 9-3
WR Sam Hurd
LB Nick Duffy
OG Jacob Ebenhoch
QB - 3.5 DL - 3.5
RB - 4 LB - 3.5
WR - 3.5 DB - 2.5
OL - 4 ..

Passing: Josh Haldi, 254-130-6, 2027 yds., 15 TD's

Rushing: Michael Turner, 338 att., 1915 yds., 19 TD's

Receiving: Dan Sheldon, 40 rec., 783 yds., 5 TD's

Scoring: Michael Turner, 20 TD's, 120 pts.

Punting: Steve Azar, 1 punt, 24.0 avg.

Kicking: Steve Azar, 18-25 FG, 41-43 PAT, 95 pts.

Tackles: Akil Grant, 138 tot., 92 solo

Sacks: Travis Moore, 7 sacks; Vinson Reynolds, 7 sacks

Interceptions: Randee Drew, 7 for 103 yds.

Kickoff returns: Randee Drew, 15 ret., 26.1 avg.

Punt returns: Dan Sheldon, 21 ret., 22.7 avg.


DE Travis Moore
OFFENSE: Matt Dunker-TE, Tim Vincent-OT, Thomas Hammock-TB, Graham Sleight-OG, Matt McGhghy-OG, Shea Fitzgerald-OT
DEFENSE: Anthony Falbo-DT, Eric Didesch-NT, Larry Williams-WLB, Vince Thompson-CB, Justin Dole-SS, Jimmy Erwin-P

written by Dave Bagchi

All-American RB Michael Turner will carry the load for the Husky offense. Running primarily out of the I-formation, Turner had 18 rushing TDs to go along with his 1,702 yards. He packs speed and power into his 6'0, 223-pound frame. The cry has already begun for Turner as a dark-horse Heisman candidate. Sophomore A.J. Harris will provide some depth. The fullback role is clear as a blocker - NIU handed the ball to their fullbacks an amazing zero times.

Behind (and by that, of course, we mean 'in front of') every great running game is a tremendous offensive line. Turner should continue to see holes. The big question, maybe the biggest question, is how good is the OL? Can it be better or as good as last year? Three starters are gone and the Huskies are thin up front. But there are some new people with potential. Some youngsters may have to grow some hair on their chests real fast. Sophomore Shea Fitzgerald will replace the departed Tim Vincent and join the experienced group of senior Todd Ghilani and junior Jake VerStraete. Junior OG Mark Orszula (6-7, 323) comes back after missing last season due to a leg injury in a fork lift incident and started eight times in 2001. The average size of the NIU front is about 6'5, 300 pounds.

All-MAC Junior SE Dan Sheldon is mister do-it-all for the Huskies. In his addition to his 35 receptions for 729 yards, the 5'9 speedster gained 129 yards rushing and was outstanding on special teams. Sheldon makes sure that defenses do not focus only on the running game. Three players will battle over the starting flanker spot: 6'2 senior Keith Perry and highly touted sophomores Shatone Powers and Sam Hurd. Hurd should win the starting job, with the competition boding well for receiver and return depth. The best news of all is the return of senior P.J. Fleck, the inspirational team co-captain and the author of a team-leading 59 catches for 732 yards in 2001. Fleck struggled through the first three games last fall due to serious hamstring problems and gained a medical redshirt year.

Although first year starting QB Josh Haldi passed for 1,885 yards with 15 touchdowns, there is room to improve. Haldi completed just 51% of his passes, and the Huskies converted a putrid 35% of third-downs. Look for Haldi to open it up in 2003. The 2002 Huskies ran on almost two-thirds of their downs. MAC coach of the year Joe Novak would prefer closer to a 60/40 split. To do this, Haldi will need to spread the ball around more. Of the 120 receptions, 73 went to three players. Northern Illinois used to throw to Hammock out of the backfield (in 2001). Look for them to return to some of this with Haldi-to-Turner this season.

Junior TE Brad Cieslak will replace departed senior Matt Dunker. Dunker was a favorite target of Haldi's in 2002 with six touchdowns. Cieslak has excellent hands but is a bit slower. Look for some early growing pains as Cieslak gets accustomed to the starting role.


TB Michael Turner


Returning Starters in bold
QB Josh Haldi-Jr (6-2, 194) Ryan Gilbert-Sr (6-3, 195)
TB Michael Turner-Sr (6-0, 223) A.J. Harris-So (6-0, 210)
WR Dan Sheldon-Jr (5-11, 175) Sam Hurd-So (6-1, 175)
WR P.J. Fleck-Sr (5-10, 177) Keith Perry-Sr (6-3, 221)
Q Aaron Anderson-Jr (6-3, 227) Brad Benson-Fr (6-0, 240)
TE Brad Cieslak-Jr (6-4, 250) Pat Raleigh-So (6-4, 231)
OT Doug Free-Fr (6-5, 250) Mychael McKay-Fr (6-3, 275)
OG Mark Orszula-Jr (6-7, 323) Shaun Schroeder-Sr (6-2, 309)
C Todd Ghilani-Sr (6-4, 295) Matt Rogers-Fr (6-3, 250)
OG Jacob Ebenhoch-Fr (6-4, 278) Brian Van Acker-So (6-3, 266)
OT Jake Ver Straete-Jr (6-7, 289) Efrain Cerventes-Fr (6-3, 268)
K Steve Azar-Sr (5-7, 192) Aaron Reese-Fr (5-10, 170)



written by Dave Bagchi

The sack attack is back. Young defensive coordinator Scott Shafer loves to take risks, blitzing his safeties and linebackers out of the Attack 4-3. Of the team's 46 sacks, 30 came from the back seven. With this pass defense it is often all or nothing.

The LB unit anchors the NIU defense, stuffing the run as offensive coordinators scheme against the secondary stunts. Northern Illinois was strong against the run, allowing only 3.5 yards per rush, and 132 rushing yards per game. Senior leader MLB Nick Duffy is the leader. Shafer asks for much from the middle in coverage and run support. Duffy's 113 tackles only hint at his overall ability. Shafer likes to creep his outside backers up to the line and bring a 5-2 look at times to opposing quarterbacks. Look for sophomore Javan Lee to put on 20 pounds to his light frame and fill the role left by departed OLB Larry Williams. Returning junior starter Brian Atkinson will fill the other outside position. Together in 2002, Atkinson, Williams and Duffy combined for nearly 300 tackles, 16 sacks and 23 tackles-for-loss. The X-factor is DE/OLB senior Vinson Reynolds. He had seven sacks and 12 quarterback hurries a year ago in a back-up role. With Atkinson and Lee being under-sized, look for Reynolds to get more time at linebacker.

The Huskies return three of four starters along the defensive line. Seniors Jason Frank, Leonard Cooksey, junior Travis Moore, and the newcomer, sophomore Charles Johnson, should get the nod. This unit will again succeed in stopping the run. The ends, Frank and Moore are the stars of the group. They are both basically linebackers stringing out each play, often keeping opposing TEs out of their routes. Forget about running outside on the Huskies as their ends and linebackers will laterally dominate you. If you are going to beat them, run up the middle. Cooksey is under-sized for a tackle, though Johnson is over 300-pounds. Coaches are expecting the run defense to only get better with Johnson plugging the inside. So much for having a plan.

In a conference with pass-happy teams, the Huskies sorely need to improve their 103rd ranked pass defense. The combination of an under-sized secondary and lack of overall team-speed allows opponents to produce big plays against risky schemes. The corners will be senior returning starter Randee Drew and newcomer senior Gerard Taylor. Drew led the team with seven interceptions and 14 passes defended, but his 5'8 frame allows him to be picked on. Randee is a risk-taker, and with all the risks being taken up front by this defense, the Huskies need him and Taylor to play sound football and keep the play in front of them. Taylor is only 5'7 and backup sophomore Deon Smith 5'9. This will be a problem when the Huskies line up against teams like Western Michigan and Marshall that have big, physical receivers. Shafer tries to compensate for the lack of size and speed by keeping his guys aggressive. Give opponents some time and they will pick this secondary apart as they over-pursue.

Senior FS Akil Grant led the team last season with 124 tackles. Grant is a little thin, but has more size at 5'11 than his peers and hits with memorable authority. Smaller junior SS Devron Francis will replace departed senior Justin Dole. Francis has seen plenty of playing time, but his strength is in coverage, not up in the box. It will be interesting to see what approach the coaches take with Francis, perhaps let him play more conservatively to ground the secondary's wild-side. If not, look for junior Toran Ballard to make a push. Ballard is more physical and fits better into Shafer's schemes.


CB Randee Drew


Returning Starters in bold
DE Jason Frank-Sr (6-5, 243) Vinson Reynolds-Sr (6-1, 237)
NT Leonard Cooksey-Sr (6-0, 273) Justin McIntyre-So (6-0, 297)
DT Martin Wilson-Jr (6-0, 273) Charles Johnson-So (6-1, 313)
DE Travis Moore-Jr (6-0, 231) Ken West-Fr (6-0, 226)
SLB Brian Atkinson-Jr (6-1, 210) Jason Hutton-So (5-10, 229)
MLB Nick Duffy-Sr (6-2, 232) Jason Hawkins-Jr (6-2, 226)
WLB Kursten Strothman-Jr (6-1, 239) Javan Lee-So (6-1, 192)
CB Randee Drew-Sr (5-8, 185) Rob Lee-Jr (6-1, 192)
CB Gerard Taylor-Sr (5-7, 184) Deon Smith-So (5-9, 183)
SS Akil Grant-Sr (5-11, 186) Ray Smith-So (6-1, 182)
FS Lionel Hickenbottom-Jr (5-10, 192) Devron Francis-Jr (5-9, 179)
P Anthony Gallagher-Sr (5-11, 199) Dennis Tovar-Jr (6-0, 200)




WR Dan Sheldon doubles as the nation's leading punt-returner with a 22.7 yard punt return average. DB Randee Drew was 15th in the nation in kick return average at 26.1 yards. Drew is lightning in a bottle and a natural playmaker.

Senior punter Anthony Gallagher will start after no 2002 boots. Punt coverage could cost them field-position, and possibly games, if they again allow over 15 yards per return. This area is critical with a likely under-achieving secondary.

Place-kicker Steve Azar made 15-21 FGAs. Azar was 12-for-13 inside the 40, but struggled beyond that. Coach Novak has the option of giving Azar dual duties as a punter if needed.


Note: Sophomore offensive tackle Shea Fitzgerald was tragically killed in a porch-collapsing incident in late June. Shea was a peer-described "nice guy", who was "very easy to talk to". His loss is a sincere misfortune to the college football community. We at NationalChamps.net send our hearts out to the loved ones in Shea's life.


"I can't wait". These words from coach Joe Novak seem to sum up the feelings of all those who follow Northern Illinois football. Michael Turner even said, "anything but winning a MAC Championship would be a failure to me". Hmmm, big expectations? You bet. They better balance this weight evenly or it may come down to crush them! … Sophomore TB Adrian Davis had a marvelous spring game, carrying for 116 yards and 2 TDs on 20 carries. Garrett Wolfe added 71 yards on 11 carries. It seems the Huskies can run the football no matter who's back there- that's good! … WR Sam Hurd left his prints on the offense, nabbing 4 passes for 120 yards. At 30 yards a catch, Hurd proved himself to be a serious offensive catalyst. Soph WR Shatone Powers has also made progress… Jacob Ebenhoch (rsf) and Matt Rogers (rsf) have consummately impressed Novak, making us believe they could be starting on the same line together very soon.

If you find yourself doing a double take next season, it's for good reason. RSF CBs Adriel and Alvah Hansbro (otherwise known as the "Doublemint Twins") have progressed nicely in the Huskie secondary this spring and will see a good share of game action in 2003… Watch for incoming frosh LB Bob McLearen. He is a rocket with a knack for making tackles (especially for loss)… The Huskies return the services of FS Lionel Hickenbottom, who sat out the majority of last year due to a leg injury. His return makes this group a good one.