QB Josh Haldi

2003 Statistics

Coach: Joe Novak
38-52, 8 years
2003 Record: 10-2
at Alabama WON 19-16
OHIO WON 30-23 (OT)
at Central Michigan WON 40-24
at Bowling Green LOST 18-34
at Buffalo WON 40-9
at Toledo LOST 30-49

2003 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2004 Outlook

"So close, yet so far away". Northern Illinois got perhaps the biggest bowl snub last year, staying at home as big conference 6-6 teams, like UCLA and Northwestern, (undeservedly) went. In keeping with reality, they know a 10-win season is still not good enough if it doesn't generate year-end results. It goes to show that in addition to taking care of matters away from home, you also have to win in your own conference. Appropriately, a 6-2 record in the MAC wasn't impressive in the minds of the bowl powers. This year's team has the motivation to go out and take care of business - but motive must be followed by production. Doing and saying are two different things, eh?

The offense will prove steady, again, and put some hefty points on the board. The Huskies averaged 32 points a game, while topping 40 four times. With too many "ifs" on defense, they must stay healthy to improve their marginal stopping abilities. Defensively, they just don't have a strong enough mentality conviction to be a dominating presence in the pass-happy MAC. Look for the LBs to carry this squad while watching a yearlong process of developing some solid DBs for the future. Their development will directly reflect any overall improvement in team results.

Aside from Maryland, the terrors on the schedule will again be offensive kings Bowling Green and Toledo. We expect the Huskies to take one of those games (most likely Bowling Green). Winning the MAC West would mean taking both, and we don't see that happening. Ultimately they will again play the role of the bridesmaid and watch one of the two aforementioned favorites play for the MAC title. Ultimately, they will really have only themselves to blame if/when title efforts collapse, for their talent levels and game-slate is favorable for another national attention-getting run.

Projected 2004 record: 8-3
QB - 3.5 DL - 3.5
RB - 2.5 LB - 4
WR - 3.5 DB - 2
OL - 2.5 ..

Passing: Josh Haldi, 336-199-9, 2544 yds., 25 TD

Rushing: A.J. Harris, 66 att., 271 yds., 2 TD

Receiving: Sam Hurd, 29 rec., 438 yds., 2 TD

Scoring: Shatone Powers, 5 TD, 30 pts.

Punting: Anthony Gallagher, 63 punts, 40.2 avg.

Kicking: none

Tackles: Brian Atkinson, 108 tot., 65 solo

Sacks: Brian Atkinson, 6 sacks

Interceptions: Rob Lee, 5 for 17 yds.

Kickoff returns: Lionel Hickenbottom, 6 ret., 17.3 avg, 0 TD

Punt returns: Dan Sheldon, 12 ret., 12.5 avg., 0 TD


FS Lionel Hickenbottom

April 15, 2004 - The era of A.J. Harris has begun. The junior tailback rushed for 157 yards on six carries including touchdown runs of 65 and 70 yards to lead the Northern Illinois University White Team (offense) to a 37-0 win over the NIU Red Team (defense) Thursday (April 15) evening at Brigham Field at Huskie Stadium.

It didn't take long for questions about the future of NIU's running game to be answered, as Harris took the game's opening handoff 65 yards for the score. In an amazing show of speed, Harris raced over left tackle and glided untouched to paydirt, to make it 7-0.

NIU's quick-strike offense made it 14-0 when Josh Haldi hooked up with Dan Sheldon for a 45-yard score. On a post pattern down the middle of the field, Sheldon got behind the NIU defense and raced the final 15 yards to the endzone.

The Huskies' final touchdown came via another spectacular Harris run. Wowing an announced crowd of 1,543 NIU faithful, Harris scampered 70 yards over left tackle to make it 34-0. With the run, Harris pushed his halftime-rushing total to 155 on just five carries, an average of 31.0 yards per attempt. Harris finished the day averaging 26.2 per carry.


Zach Ullrich, 9-8-1, 37 yds.
Phil Horvath, 8-5-0, 42 yds.
Josh Haldi, 1-2, 45 yds., 1 TD


A.J. Harris, 6 att. 157 yds., 2 TD
Adrian Davis, 9 att., 40 yds.


Sam Hurd, 2 rec., 34 yds.
Pat Raleigh, 2 rec., 27 yds.
Shatone Powers, 2 rec., 26 yds.


Lee Javan - 5.5 tackles
Dustin Utschig - 5 tackles

Rob Lee, Devron Francis, 1 int. each

OFFENSE: P.J. Fleck-WR, Keith Perry-TE, Michael Turner-TB, Todd Ghilani-C, Steve Azar-K
DEFENSE: Jason Frank-DE, Vinson Reynolds-DE, Leonard Cooksey-NT, Nick Duffy-MLB, Randee Drew-CB, Akil Grant-SS

Novak has an intelligent QB with starting experience in senior academic all-American Josh Haldi. Haldi, who enters his third year as the Huskie signal-caller, has been getting progressively better each season. He won't dazzle you with his arm or his feet, but he'll beat you with genuine game management and mistake-free football. The real focus this spring was finding a worthy backup. Four players will continue to wage for that role into the fall, but Zach Ullrich looks the eventual fit.

Running Back
There must be something in the water in DeKalb, because the Huskies consistently produce great backs. A.J. Harris did everything he could to make the Huskie faithful forget "The Burner's" departure. Harris had one of the most productive spring games in the country. Harris is lightning-quick and has decent size to take the inevitable punishment a RB endures. Novak will use a committee of backs to benefit Harris and drive this offense, notably Cas Prime- a guy who'll be the next great in the near future.

Shatone Powers and Sam Hurd have to step up from being primarily blockers to become feature WRs. They will need to develop into go-to guys for Haldi, taking focus away from the ground attack. Hurd is the consistent one, while Powers and "Mr. Excitement", Dan Sheldon wear the big-play tags. Sheldon is proven a clutch receiver, tough enough to go over the middle and haul in anything thrown his way. We also feel there is something special about Jarret Carter. Obviously, they have to throw to these guys to develop what they want, so play calling and balance are essential ingredients for expanding the corps' roles.

Tight End and Offensive Line
At NIU, TEs need to be both a presence up front and a threat downfield. Brad Cieslak fits that mold best, possessing all-MAC qualities in both. The Huskies line up two at a time, and will experiment with Nordin, Raleigh, and impressive youngster Brandon Davis until the proven second TE is clear.

Believe what you will about the running game, but the engine that drives this (any) offense is the front line. The Huskies perennially own one of the MAC's best lines, annually paving the way to success for their backs. Three starters come back, headlined by All-MAC OT Jake VerStraete. This group is nasty, tough, and mobile, so these new backs should have no problem getting used to the versatility of the NIU hogs. This worthy crew will generate cohesion and produce yet another vehement rushing force.

See Huskies. See Huskies Run. Run Huskies Run. The passing game has been steady the past few years because they've been liberated/anchored by a strong running game, so the balance of the two is their strength, not one or the other. Straight up - as the run game goes, so goes the pass. Harris will be the feature of this machine. Accordingly, if/when the run game fails (as opponents see this juggernaut coming this time), this could turn out to be one of the uglier offenses in the MAC. Calm yourselves, Huskie faithful - we don't see that happening. Assuming, though, that most factors stay equal as they were when the 2003 campaign ended, this squad will have to find another gear for when solid defensive opponents (Bowling Green did them in '03) meet them half way.


OT Jake VerStraete


Returning Starters in bold
QB Josh Haldi-Sr (6-2, 205) Phil Horvath-So (6-3, 194)
Zach Ulrich-Fr (5-11, 191)
TB A.J. Harris-Jr (6-1, 219) Adrian Davis-Jr (5-5, 181)
Garrett Wolfe-So (5-7, 171)
WR Sam Hurd-Jr (6-3, 195) Jarret Carter-So (6-3, 198)
WR Shatone Powers-Jr (6-1, 186) David McDermott-Sr (6-2, 180)
WR Dan Sheldon-Sr (5-11, 175) Kevin Woods-Sr (5-9, 193)
TE Brad Cieslak-Sr (6-3, 259) Pat Raleigh-Jr (6-5, 242)
OT Doug Free-So (6-6, 276) Chris Acevedo-Fr (6-6, 301)
OG Ben Lueck-Sr (6-4, 305) Matt Rogers-So (6-5, 259)
C Brian Van Archer-Jr (6-5, 273) George Daglas-Jr (6-4, 290)
OG Jake Ebenhoch-Jr (6-4, 294) Matt Biondi-Fr (6-3, 331)
OT Jake VerStraete-Sr (6-7, 311) Seren Woodfork-Bey-Fr (6-5, 303)
K Aleks Miskov-So (5-11, 204) Chris Nendick-Fr (5-11, 163)



Defensive Line
Seniority exists up front, but don't confuse that with experience. The Huskies will introduce three new starters. Travis Moore earned all-MAC honors in 2002, but sat out last year with an injury that continues to persist. Fellow DE Kursten Strothman is making the switch from OLB, so his versatility speaks volumes about his ability to pursue and tackle whoever he wants. To the novice football mind it may seem like an easy transition, but the responsibilities are fairly contrasting. This unit is the starting point for making the pitfalls from last years "almost run" (namely, the season's last few games show us how the defense itself was the culprit).

The linebackers are more secure in comparison, and good thing - they carry most of the accountability in this "attack 4-3" scheme. MLB Brian "the beast" Atkinson is the best player on this side of the ball. He earned All-MAC honors with his coupling of speed and knack for seemingly always being around opposing ball carriers. He excels both against the run and the pass. OLB Jason Hawkins could be the next-best player on this defense, simply by association. Playing on the strong side, he is likely to see most of the offensive flow come his way. Depth is prevalent and helps make this unit the strength of the defense.

Defensive Back
This is a problem area for the Huskies. They ran into troubles when teams could effectively and consistently throw downfield. Though they intercepted a MAC-best 23 passes, they yielded 230 YPG and a 55 % completion rate in the process. Solace is that the yardage totals were offset by NIU having the 37th-ranked pass efficiency defense, so there is reason to believe. Lionel "Boogie" Hickenbottom is a tackling dynamo from his FS position and CB Rob Lee is the team's top ball-hawker from '03. Attention will be paid to the opposite CB spot, where the Hansbro twins - Adriel and Alvah - will compete with highly touted RSF Jimmy Toussaint. The competition and speed of the new corners will add to the overall quality of this unit, making them tougher to beat through the air.

The Huskies thrive on forcing turnovers. 2003 was so great because they had 31 takeaways (roughly 2.5 a game), keeping opponents away from opportunity. But this defense is by no means outstanding, for both losses land squarely on the 'D'. Champions are defined on this side of the ball. If not for a high-scoring offense, they would have been a 6-6 team at best. Success this time will come from the transitions made in the trenches. The front line is the key - when they step into their potential, this entire side of the ball will tighten to optimal levels. Such (overall defensive) levels need to be higher (than in '03), for, as stated prior, foes will see their subtle balance coming on offense, meaning NIU's points will likely be a few less, and therefore defense becomes the foundation for any continued success.


LB Brian Atkinson


Returning Starters in bold
DE Kursten Strothman-Sr (6-2, 240) Ken West-So (6-2, 234)
DT Martin Wilson-Sr (6-1, 264) Adam Schroeder-Fr (6-4, 260)
NT Eric Pittman-So (6-1, 306) Justin McIntyre-Jr (6-1, 290)
DE Travis Moore-Sr (6-2, 242) Quince Holman-Jr (6-3, 240)
SLB Jason Hawkins-Sr (6-3, 233) Jason Hutton-Jr (6-1, 236)
MLB Brian Atkinson-Sr (6-1, 223) Keenan Blalark-So (5-9, 213)
WLB Javan Lee-Jr (6-2, 211) Marlon Watson-Sr (6-2, 210)
CB Adriel Hansbro-So (5-11, 171) Jimmy Toussaint-Fr (5-9, 157)
CB Rob Lee-Sr (6-1, 195) Alvah Hansbro-So (5-10, 173)
SS Ray Smith-Jr (6-1, 181) Dustin Utschig-So (5-11, 191)
FS Lionel Hickenbottom-Sr (6-1, 196) Devron Francis-Sr (5-10, 180)
P Anthony Gallagher-Sr (6-0, 207) Dennis Tovar-Sr (6-0, 228)




Losing a kicker like Steve Azar is like losing your wallet - it's going to take some time to recover fully from that lost security. Second-generation kicker Aleks Miskov will compete with incoming freshman Chris Nendick for the placement duties. Though kickers commonly have small feet, these are some BIG shoes to fill.

Anthony Gallagher returns to punt, but needs to improve his hang time and leg strength. He's a faithful "coffin corner" kicker (23 inside the 20 in '03), but will be counted on to drive opponents out of Huskie territory.

Return Game
Dan Sheldon - like we said, he's Mr. Excitement. If you want to see a masterful PR display, just watch the Huskies play Steve Suter and the Maryland Terps on September 4th. Kick returns will go to Hickenbottom.