SYCAMORE – How important was it for Sycamore seniors C.J. Compher and Marckie Hayes to go to school and play college football together?
"Very," Compher said Monday afternoon.
The pair lifts weights together, they hang out together and next year they will be part of the Northern Illinois football team together.
Compher verbally committed to the Huskies in the end of 2009 and will sign a National Letter of Intent on Feb. 3 while Hayes decided on Monday that he will be joining the Huskies as a preferred walk-on.
"As it's been boiling down, I took my visits to some of the smaller schools," said Hayes, who also had interest from Harvard, Western Michigan and several Division II schools. "I've always had a pretty strong desire to be a Huskie, so I decided ultimately that is what I wanted to do."
Compher, who is 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, will play a hybrid H-back, fullback and tight end position. That's something that he couldn't have imagined before he came to Sycamore for his junior season.
Compher hadn't lifted weights before, but since joining coach Joe Ryan and Curt Countryman's weightlifting program, he has bulked up and become much more athletic.
"I was pretty raw. Marckie always says that I didn't have a body shape yet," Compher said. "I always give credit to coach Countryman and coach Ryan. They just pushed me so much in the weight room.
"I think [Marckie and I] push each other. As much as we're friends, we compete whether it be in Xbox or up in the weight room."
Compher, whose father Jeff is NIU's athletic director, said his personal relationship and trust in NIU coach Jerry Kill was another factor in his decision.
"I feel extremely comfortable with the coaches there," C.J. Compher said. "It's hard to describe coach Kill. He's just a genuine guy, I feel almost like he's a second father."
Hayes, who is 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, led the Spartans with 1,792 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns this season as they reached the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1978.
Over the past three years, Hayes was named all-conference in the Western Sun at three positions: defense, special teams as a kick returner and offense.
Hayes says he might play defensive back for the Huskies but is open to anything.
He talked to the family of former Sycamore teammate Jason Schepler, who entered NIU as a preferred walk-on at tight end and earned a scholarship last season as a sophomore, before making the decision. Former teammate Kevin Sabock is on scholarship as a linebacker.
"I know they're going to give him a fair chance and I think that's all I can ask if he's going to walk on and take that giant leap," Ryan said. "College football is a small business and they have to win there. They need good kids to get there and they're getting a very good one without having to give money, yet."
Ryan said that Compher and Hayes, much like University of Illinois baseball player Will Strack and both Schepler and Sabock, show the younger athletes in the program that plenty is attainable if they work hard.
"I think [Hayes and Compher] have a tremendous passion to succeed in whatever they do," Ryan said. "They are going to succeed in school and they are going to succeed in football and that's important to the coaches that recruit them because they need to be successful on the field and they need to surround themselves with kids who want to be successful."