TB Garrett Wolfe (PHOTO BY: Scott Walstrom, NIU Media Services)

2005 Statistics

Coach: Joe Novak
54-60, 10 years
2005 Record: 7-5
at Michigan LOST 17-33
at Northwestern LOST 37-38
at Akron LOST 42-48 (OT)
at Kent State WON 34-3
at Central Michigan WON 31-28
at Toledo WON 35-17
vs. Akron LOST 30-31

2005 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2006 Outlook

After a rough first few years, head coach Joe Novak enters his 11th season at the helm, now posting six straight winning campaigns. Included here are four West Division titles in their last five tries, and 2006 - with a great QB, an all-American RB and their strong defense - shows NIU a slight favorite to take their half again. The OL and DL interiors are rebuilt, but for any doubters who wonder if they can remain a strong running team, just note how the Huskies are presently tied (with Minnesota) for second at the I-A level with the most consecutive years producing a 1000-yard back (seven, only Texas is ahead of them). And with Wolfe a darkhorse Heisman candidate, that streak should continue. NIU is also one of only a handful of teams producing 200 yards per game in both running and passing categories the last two years, and is the only one to still have that same starting QB returning for 2006. Novak holds another great hand with which to play.

The scheduling again reflects some major challenges, most notably their first-time meeting with perennial powerhouse Ohio State. We feel there is an outside chance that the game in Columbus can be won with the Buckeyes’ massive turnover in their back seven, meaning Horvath could win a scoring shootout if they can keep up. Regardless, the defense will quickly know its deficiencies, which can become a positive thing since the Huskies can then concentrate on fixing such areas against the next opponents (all patsies at home on their fast field turf) before their next tough tilts. NIU is looking for payback against Ball State, a team they hadn’t lost to (before last year’s 31-17 shocker) since 1998, and this is the first of three challenging away games for which the Huskies should be well tuned up and in their flow. This slew, along with their back-to-back games with Iowa (away) and then Toledo (home), will define the 2006 season in DeKalb. We think Novak & Co. can return to the league championship in Detroit, a deserving end for this storied school (program running since 1899) that consistently ranks in the top 25 with its graduation rate (71.4% in 2005), which would mean achieving both of their ultimate goals.

Projected 2006 record: 9-3
QB - 4 DL - 2.5
RB - 4.5 LB - 3
WR - 3 DB - 3.5
OL - 3 ..

Passing: Phil Horvath, 238-168-8, 2001 yds., 18 TD

Rushing: Garrett Wolfe, 242 att., 1580 yds., 16 TD

Receiving: Britt Davis, 42 rec., 441 yds., 3 TD

Scoring: Garrett Wolfe, 17 TD, 102 pts.

Punting: Andy Dittbenner, 54 punts, 38.6 avg.

Kicking: Chris Nendick, 9-13 FG, 50-50 PAT, 77 pts.

Tackles: Dustin Utschig, 106 tot., 58 solo

Sacks: Craig Rusch, 6 sacks

Interceptions: Dustin Utschig, 3 for 50 yds.

Kickoff returns: Adriel Hansbro, 4 ret., 18.2 avg., 0 TD

Punt returns: Mark Reiter, 1 ret., 2.0 avg., 0 TD


QB Phil Horvath (PHOTO BY: Scott Walstrom, NIU Media Services)
OFFENSE: Sam Hurd-WR, Shatone Powers-WR, Jake Ebenhoch-OG, Ben Lueck-OG, Brian Van Acker-C, A.J. Harris-TB
DEFENSE: Martin Wilson-NT, Quince Holman-DT, Jason Hutton-LB, Ray Smith-SS

Senior Philip Horvath is, for some reason, considered the co-starter along with sophomore Dan Nicholson. Ok, so Nicholson did a great job after Horvath went down with a broken arm in game 9 versus Central Michigan, almost equaling Horvath’s ranking of sixth nationally for his efficiency rating (of 159.5, compared to Nicholson’s 152.2). But Horvath led the nation in completion percentage (70.6%) and rewrote many school records, and has also proven to be a running threat much more than Nicholson. Both are tall enough to both see the field and run the offense well, so it isn’t as though there is much of a drop off if Horvath isn’t given the nod. Nicholson likely sees reps because he is the future, making this, by far, one of the nation’s strongest QB units. Lost in the shuffle is RS frosh Ryan Morris, a walk-on who had a great spring, seeing lots of development time with Horvath still being limited. Then there is true freshman Billy Lowe, who is good enough that he may have to transfer to ever see the field in the next few years.

Running Back
Maybe not as deep as they are at QB, the Huskies will rely on senior speedster Garrett Wolfe to again, as he has for two years now, gain nearly 1,600 yards to lead NIU’s rushing attack. After finishing second in the nation in ’05 (both with 175.6 yards per game rushing and 200.2 all-purpose yards per game), his compact size proves he can run over and through foes, for arm tackles just don’t work on this second-team all-American (NationalChamps.net). Teams know he is coming, and there is just so little they can do to slow the Chicago-native down in this balanced, one-back offense. Sophomore Montell Clanton, similar in style and impact to Wolfe, has experience and proved his worth in limited action last year as well as through a great spring. Justin Anderson, who was moved to offense (from free safety), along with junior bigman Cas Prime (229lbs), provide more size with their depth at TB. As stated, this is a one-back team, and the viability of Horvath as a limited ground option really opens things up.

Even with the losses here (top two WRs vacated), there is much potential for this group to produce at the same level as the corps did in 2005. With all of the talent at QB and injuries here, Britt “Baby Vick” Davis was utilized at flanker last year and broke the school’s freshman receiving record. “We had to get (Britt) on the field somehow”, says Novak. Davis will likely use his size and speed to become NIU’s new deep threat. Senior Jarret Carter is even bigger (6’3”) and gets his own starting slot at SE. Sophomore Greg Turner seems like the next possession receiver to emerge, but Marcus Perez and Matt Simon return from academic woes and a fractured ankle, respectively, to bolster this young, athletic group. The list of unknowns goes on, and many are sure to emerge. “Collectively, this might be the fastest group of wideouts we’ve had in my tenure here. (Though) We’re young and relatively inexperienced here, but have great potential,” brags Novak. The talent at QB will surely have plenty to throw at/to.

Tight End
In their one-back attack/multi-receiver sets, two TEs are commonly utilized, with one of them often splitting off into what NIU calls its “R” position. Senior Jake Nordin and sophomore Brandon Davis open up the middle of the field with their receiving talent. Nordin is a superior blocker – strong and mean – so he stays home a lot and is a nice outlet option with his soft hands. Davis is also big enough to push DLmen back, but is more athletic for deeper routes. Sophomore David Koronkiewicz (listed at R) also finds the deep middle a comfort zone, so with three options like these in their creative looks, it is no wonder this offense can produce at all levels.

Offensive Line
The loss of all three interior linemen is offset by the return of both tackles, one of them a third-team all-American in our eyes. Senior Doug Free is capable of keeping speedy ends off of Horvath while also being athletic enough to get downfield after a completion to then knock heads with an oncoming safety or lead block for Wolfe on screens. His intuition these ways has rubbed off on his counterpart, sophomore Jon Brost, who was good enough to start as a freshman. Brost can even play inside positions when needed. With the outside secured, senior Matt Rogers will anchor the inside from his right guard slot. Rogers missed 2005 (academic issues), but this mobile blocker returns mucho experience as a former quality backup. Junior Chris Acevedo has bulked up nicely since moving inside, but still remains highly capable of pulling on outside runs. Eddie Adamski has proven how he, too, can get outside for improving the quality of run blocking there from his new-found starting center position. With four RS froshes as backups, there are no guarantees from this revamped group, but expect the same high quality chemistry to eventually develop. How long the gelling takes will dictate much as to how well the entire team does.

Production from NIU’s offense has steadily improved over the past three years, though new linemen may mean they only remain steady at their present level. But with such strong QBs and their pension for consistently achieving with seemingly one of the nation’s best RB in Wolfe, don’t be surprised by their results (seven consecutive years with a 1000-yard rusher here). Under coordinator John Bond, the Huskies have now finished two straight years in the 200-200 club (yardage per game in both passing and running), and were one of only 11 clubs to do such in ’05. Most of the other schools that did the same have lost their starting QBs, whereas NIU has two hurlers who finished the last campaign with over a 150 pass efficiency rating. Even factoring in the loss of both top WRs, the creativity seen in their one-back sets means aerial success will likely continue, especially when head coach Joe Novak claims this corps is the fastest in his time here (’06 is his 11th year). Expect more of the same, with only the new line’s maturity as a possible limitation.


OT Doug Free (PHOTO BY: Scott Walstrom, NIU Media Services)


Returning Starters in bold
QB Phil Horvath-Sr (6-3, 197) Dan Nicholson-So (6-2, 183)
TB Garrett Wolfe-Sr (5-7, 173) Montell Clanton-So (5-9, 177)
WR Jarret Carter-Sr (6-3, 200) Greg Turner-So (6-0, 180)
WR Britt Davis-So (6-2, 195) Evans Adonis-So (6-0, 165)
WR Matt Simon-So (6-2, 195) Marcus Perez-So (5-11, 172)
David Koronkiewicz-So (6-3, 253)
TE Jake Nordin-Sr (6-3, 258) Brandon Davis-Jr (6-4, 261)
OT Doug Free-Sr (6-7, 302) Kevin Skatrud-Fr (6-6, 314)
OG Chris Acevedo-Jr (6-5, 304) Tim Mayerbock-Fr (6-4, 313)
C Eddie Adamski-Fr (6-2, 265) Ethan Gill-Fr (6-4, 272)
OG Matt Rogers-Sr (6-4, 277) Ryan Tuggle-So (6-4, 265)
OT Jon Brost-So (6-6, 296) Tony Holmes-Fr (6-6, 293)
K Chris Nendick-Jr (5-11, 168) Luke Biondi-Sr (5-11, 188)



Defensive Line
Similar to their offensive counterparts, the outside positions here are all returning starters, whereas the inside ones reflect major turnover. Converted-LB Larry English had a super premier in his (RS) freshman campaign at end, finishing second on the team for TFLs (eight) and sixth in tackles in his nine starts. Bookend Ken West is a senior who will be looked to for leadership. West is much stronger than his size suggests, breaking through blocks as well as he follows plays to the end. Like English, Craig Rusch (as a freshman) started some games at end, too, but was seen throughout spring practices as an inside presence (both NT and DT), so expect Rusch, NIU’s top sacker (six) and fumble forcer (three) to start and/or play there due to team needs. Junior Zack Holycross is also up to fill an inside slot (probably DT), but Eric Pittman will push for time and push the level of play up with his svelte approach. Adam Schroeder, like Holycross, is a junior and has more of the size needed for performing as a tackle, so rotations here with all of them will only help legs stay fresh and keep opponents off-balance with assignments. This group has to (and should) help elevate the team’s sack total above 2005’s measly sum of 19. As run stoppers, they should also rank marginally higher than 58th.

Within the ideal of making their LBs into glorified safeties (due to the increased number of “spread” offenses in the MAC and otherwise), this group will be smaller, but faster and more mobile for better open-field pursuit/results. Example A is David Bryant, who was recruited in 2005 as a RB, then moved to CB and was eventually red-shirted as a free safety. Now, he has four full years to prove his instincts and speed, which all affords him the starting weakside spot. Example B is how Keenan Blalark, a starter in ’05 who finished second for total tackles, has been relegated to second-team after sophomore Phil Brown excelled as a true frosh. Brown has more speed to secure all that ground on the strongside. Example C is Tim McCarthy, who rounds out the youth movement at “Mike”. A proven run-stopper, this first-team freshman all-American (FWAA in ‘05) had the most stops for a first-year player since Hall of Fame LB Frank Lewamdoski in 1976. Example D is all of the light-quick reserves (like underclassmen Josh Allen and Zack Larsen) who saw first-team reps in spring practice, just not backup T.J. Griffin, though the bigger senior has proven himself as a starter at SLB. The LBs are a huge reason teams only averaged 10.5 yards per completion and six per pass attempt. The underneath is covered, and their size inside plugs the running lanes.

Defensive Back
You remember the Hanson triplets from the movie “Slap Shot”, right? Well, NIU’s version is their starting CBs, identical twins Alvah and Adriel Hansbro. Alvah seems to produce more, so Adriel has to watch for challenges from true sophomores Bradley Pruitt and Melvin Rice. Pruitt has the size and Rice the speed to challenge for reps, but it all bodes well for the Huskies. Starting at FS, Dustin Utschig joins the menacing twins as a senior leader (official team captain?) to keep the play in front of this safety net. Utschig led the team in tackles and INTs, and coaches say, from what they saw in spring ball, that he keeps getting better. The only spot we see that might drop off is at strong safety, where new starter Mark Reiter steps in. Decent as a backup at FS, he will learn the nuances of his new position quickly as Ohio State exposes any weaknesses in the first game. Less depth here looks to be the case with two RS freshman stepping in if injuries happen in back. Still, this should be the D’s strongest unit, so improvements can occur in NIU’s already decent secondary.

With seven returning starters, the few holes needing attention look to be filled with the right kinds of players so Novak’s schemes can be achieved. Coordinator Denny Doornbos, also coaching the new starters on the line’s interior, has been entrusted to make the entire defense quicker due to the need for speed in stopping the increased number of foes incorporating spread attacks. The line and LBs appear more svelte, and the DBs are led by a savvy bunch of seniors who already have the needed chemistry to achieve optimal results this way (though 65th in total pass defense, they were 34th in the all-important efficiency category). Similarly, their total defensive rank (52nd) doesn’t reflect how they fared better in points allowed (where they finished 34th, giving up a mere 22 per game and less points per quarter as games progressed). Stats needing attention are third-down conversion rate (allowed 40%) and sacks (19), numbers that , if improved, will reflect NIU’s ability to keep up with those sophisticated spread offenses now being practiced at most MAC schools, and such should equal those few extra wins needed to earn another conference championship. Also, watch the Huskie’s ability to stop the run for a barometer of how well the entire team is faring.


DB Dustin Utschig (PHOTO BY: Scott Walstrom, NIU Media Services)


Returning Starters in bold
DE Ken West-Sr (6-1, 238) Craig Rusch-So (6-4, 252)
DT Zack Holycross-Jr (6-7, 284) Eric Pittman-Sr (6-2, 265)
NT Adam Schroeder-Jr (6-5, 273) Brad Benson-Sr (6-1, 260)
DE Larry English-So (6-3, 236) Brandon Bice-Fr (6-3, 236)
SLB Phil Brown-So (5-11, 225) Keenan Blalark-Sr (5-10, 228)
MLB Tim McCarthy-So (6-0, 226) Zach Larsen-Fr (6-0, 212)
WLB David Bryant-Fr (5-10, 193) Josh Allen-So (5-11, 217)
CB Alvah Hansbro-Sr (5-10, 170) Melvin Rice-So (5-10, 185)
CB Adriel Hansbro-Sr (5-10, 176) Bradley Pruitt-So (6-1, 180)
SS Mark Reiter-Jr (6-1, 191) Spencer Williamson-Fr (6-2, 195)
FS Dustin Utschig-Sr (5-10, 189) Jeff Fontana-Fr (5-11, 184)
P Andy Dittbenner-So (6-1, 192) Jason Baez-Jr (5-9, 181)




Junior Chris Nendick has a proven leg, especially in big games as he set the MAC Championship record with a 52-yarder. He has yet to miss a PAT at NIU. Consider him reliable. The Huskies also run a consistent coverage team on KOs.

Andy Dittbenner had a decent freshman campaign, proving he can guarantee hangtime so that half of his punts are either fair caught or downed inside the 20. Unfortunately, the coverage here on the returnable ones allowed over 11 yards per, and that meant a 94th ranking nationally for net results. The prescription is for better coverage via young, hungry second-team defensive players to assure field position battles are won.

Return Game
This area will be an adventurous one as NIU replaces all of its main kick and punt returners. Mark Reiter has the early lead in the PR department, but if Britt Davis is given the chance, he should shine brightest here. WRs Marcus Perez and Matt Simon are the focus for KORs, and they have the biggest shoes to fill since the Huskies led the MAC in this category last year. The talent is there across the board for each of these slots to excel, so watch for all to get tries until standouts emerge.