DeKALB – From a recruiting standpoint, Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill called this month the busiest time of the year.
In the past couple of weeks, the evaluation and communication done throughout the recruiting process has started to pay dividends. The announcement that the Huskies were playing South Florida in the International Bowl on Jan. 2 has helped, Kill said at a news conference Tuesday.
“We haven’t had to worry about bringing it up because they bring it up to you,” Kill said. “Playing in a bowl game, getting on ESPN, they know more about it than we do in a lot of aspects.”
Tuesday, Scout.com reported that Warren Central (Indianapolis, Ind.) prospect Michael Gegner, a 6-foot-3, 251-pound center, had given a verbal commitment to NIU.
Gegner joins Geneva defensive tackle Frank Boenzi, Romeoville linebacker Cameron Stingily and Rich Central running back Giorgio Bowers.
All of them are players who have reportedly given verbal commitments to NIU in the past two weeks.
NIU also had 10 potential recruits on campus this past weekend for visits.
“Things are moving pretty good for us and there’s no question getting in a bowl game helps you,” Kill said.
Between recruiting and bowl preparation, it’s little wonder this is a busy time despite not playing for another two-plus weeks.
“This time a year if it’s not a little bit hectic then you probably haven’t done a real good job, so it’s a good problem to have,” Kill said.
Health update: For the most part, Kill expects his Northern Illinois team to be the healthiest it has been for some time for the bowl game.
Defensive tackle Brian Lawson (hand/finger), wide receiver Perez Ashford (foot) and safety Mike Sobol (concussion) are all cleared to play. And quarterback Chandler Harnish said his injured right knee has gotten better over the past couple of weeks with rehab.
“I don’t think there’s any question Chandler was not 100 percent at the end of the season even though he came back,” Kill said.
“I feel good,” Harnish said. “We’ve had the last couple of weeks where I’ve had the chance to heal up and do a lot of rehab things.”
But Chad Spann (shoulder) and Me’co Brown (shoulder/ankle), the leaders of NIU’s rushing game which finished the season at the top of the Mid-American Conference, likely still won’t be 100 percent at kickoff.
Spann came out surprisingly well from the Central Michigan game on Nov. 27 after playing with a modified shoulder pad designed to cushion his falls, but Kill said Spann might have offseason surgery on the shoulder.
“I think that Chad is a kid that has fought through some things. It’s important for him,” Kill said. “I think it’s real important for Chad to continue where he’s left off. He’s had a great season and our team voted him our MVP. He certainly has got to have a great football game, as well as a lot of other people, to have an opportunity to win.”
As for Brown, who missed the Central Michigan game, Kill didn’t think Brown would be 100 percent for the bowl game, but emphasized that he likes the depth he has at running back with Justin Anderson and Ricky Crider.
“We’re three weeks out. If we went right now I’d say he’s questionable on whether he’ll be full speed or not,” Kill said. “He’s got an ankle, shoulder, he’s beat up. We’ll just have to see.”
Quotable: “I don’t think being a young team is an excuse for us anymore. We’ve played a full season. We’ve played 12 games. A lot of guys stepped up. True freshmen did. And they’re sophomores now. And I consider myself a junior and this is an extra game for us to get better and put ourselves more on the map.” – Harnish on the team’s youth and mentality entering the game.