Created:Friday, July 2, 2010 10:35 p.m.CDT

Not a typical summer

Northern Illinois linebacker Alex Kube (left) points during a workout at Huskie Stadium on Wednesday. (Beck Diefenbach -

DeKALB – In the past, Sean Progar was at home for a long stretch in early summer. Tracy Wilson was getting his legs ready for August and September, not necessarily November and December. The little things were still little to Chandler Harnish.

This summer, those things have changed for the three Northern Illinois players. It serves as one of many reasons why they believe they can make the jump to a MAC championship-level team.

“When I first got here, I wanted to get in better shape because I had gone home for about three weeks,” said Progar, a sophomore defensive end. “I came back two weeks earlier than I have since I’ve been here, so I’m in good shape now. Everyone’s getting stronger.”

Wilson, a safety who led the team in tackles last season with 93, said he is focusing on his squat in the weight room more. He wants to add 50 pounds to his squat total and says he has to keep doing it on a consistent basis or else that number falls quickly.

That extra work in the weight room will be tailored to helping him late in the year.

“I want to be in the best shape of my life because last year I felt that at the end of the season, my legs kind of got heavy on me,” Wilson said. “So I’m trying to build it up right now so the last couple of games I’m good. It’s something that your body just has to get used to.”

That plan for Wilson started in the spring, when he started to feel a higher level of comfort in Year 3 of defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys’ defense.

“I’m sure everyone is feeling that, not just the coaching staff,” Wilson said. “We’re just more comfortable with the plays. The players on the field are more comfortable. I know what I’m doing every single play. I know my assignment every play.”

Harnish feels a similar level of comfort, and said the team already is watching film on the team it will see in the season-opener on Sept. 2, Iowa State. The quarterbacks and wide receivers are throwing four nights a week with members of the defense.

“We lift and run everyday but then guys are here in the evening working on drills, working on throwing, watching extra film,” Harnish said. “It’s the little things, a little want-to to do those different types of things and you see that. You can tell there’s an absolute passion for football and wanting to get better.”

From Progar’s standpoint, that initiative of doing extra work means taking redshirt freshmen defensive ends Stephen O’Neal and Anthony Wells and communicating a simple message to them.

That message?

Just because senior end Jake Coffman decided to return for his senior season doesn’t mean that you’ll be sitting on the sidelines again this year.

“I’ve taken Stephen out and done drills with just Stephen, worked with him and told him that you need to know that you can play,” Progar said. “Both of you can play and you need to think that you’re going to play because that just creates competition, that creates everything that just makes the team better.”

Will NIU football win the MAC this season?