Created:Sunday, January 3, 2010 10:55 p.m.CDT

Bowl victory eludes NIU seniors


TORONTO – Saturday's 27-3 loss to South Florida left Northern Illinois' senior class missing one important thing: a bowl victory.

Over the past five seasons, the group has seen plenty of ups and downs, from the high of the 2005 MAC West championship while many of them redshirted to the low of a 2-10 record in 2007.

In all, they made three bowl games over the past four seasons but came away empty in the postseason each time.

"I'm proud of our seniors," NIU coach Jerry Kill said. "They've accomplished a lot since they've been in the program.

"They've gone through some tough times and some good times, but they've accomplished a lot as a team. I wish them luck and we'll keep forward and building a program."

For starters like David Bryant, Cory Hanson, Brandon Bice, Mike Salerno and Eddie Adamski, it all began with the 2005 team that fell 31-30 to Akron in the MAC title game and finished 7-5 without a bowl win as they redshirted.

In 2006, guard Jason Onyebuagu and wide receiver Marcus Lewis joined the class after they didn't redshirt as the Garrett Wolfe/Doug Free - led Huskies made it to the Poinsettia Bowl and lost to TCU.

The next season, however, injuries mounted and things came unhinged with a 2-10 record before longtime coach Joe Novak resigned and Jerry Kill took his place.

"A lot of things didn't go our way that season, which was unfortunate," Onyebuagu said. "We knew that wasn't who Northern Illinois or who the Huskies were.

"I think we took things for granted, having so many winning seasons, we got off track a little bit. Now I think it's headed right back in the right direction."

The new coaching staff saw how much the team they took over was hurting.

"I think a lot of the kids on the team were embarrassed," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. "You get that new facility and all that and you have to remember that's not what makes you win. It helps you recruit and kids like it but you still have to work hard."

That season soon proved to be an anomaly as the Huskies went 6-7 after an Independence Bowl loss to Louisiana Tech last season and 7-6 after Sunday's loss to USF.

Onyebuagu says he won't forget Kill ingraining into them that "It doesn't take special people to put in extra effort," saying the team got back on track with its work ethic.

"Coach Kill definitely got us going in the right direction," Onyebuagu said. "We got to go to three bowl games and two in a row. The Northern Illinois Huskies will be playing in bowl games and near the top of the MAC for years to come."

Will NIU football win the MAC this season?