DeKALB – Between bowl games and coaching changes, the caretakers of Northern Illinois’ football program have had to force time onto their schedules for college football’s most important offseason job: recruiting.
It’s been an exercise in patience the past month. Saddled by the NCAA’s dead period and still needing to fill his coaching staff, NIU coach Dave Doeren’s first days recruiting on the road will come this week. The seven assistants Doeren already hired were on the road most of last week, but they haven’t made up enough ground.
Less than a month before the Feb. 2 signing day, Doeren said the Huskies are running behind schedule.
“We’re trying to get a lot of work done in a short period of time,” he said. “We probably won’t sign a full class, just because I don’t have a year’s work into it... There are kids who normally I think NIU would have a good shot of getting that, because there was no presence here for a while, have slipped to other schools.”
Part of NIU’s problem is the windfall of recruits that followed former coach Jerry Kill to Minnesota. The Huskies had seven verbal commitments when Doeren was hired Dec. 13. Doeren said four supposedly will follow Kill.
Doeren hopes quality will help make up what NIU’s recruiting class lacks in quantity. The former Wisconsin defensive coordinator’s Big Ten connection will help.
The players that play for BCS programs aren’t the only ones recruited by BCS teams. Most of the recruits who fail to sign with a major program have the talent to play at the highest level, and Doeren has maintained relationships with players who didn’t make Wisconsin’s roster.
“I have my list,” Doeren said. “(Offensive coordinator) Matt Canada – coming from Indiana – also has his list of players you want in the MAC because they’re good enough for the Big Ten.”
Of course, dominating a bowl game on national television also helps with recruiting. Linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz said NIU’s 40-17 Humanitarian Bowl win against Fresno State on Dec. 18 raised the interest of some recruits who were in doubt after Kill’s departure.
“It’s everything,” Matukewicz said of the Humanitarian Bowl. “I’m just telling you right now, that one thing may have done more for our program than anything that’s happened. You can’t even walk into a house the same way. (Recruits) are excited as we walk through the door.
“We’re a national program because we’ve been on TV. I think it’s important to ride that momentum.”
With limited time left, Doeren will have to be selective of what areas he addresses. Doeren identified special teams, cornerbacks and tight ends as the Huskies’ three biggest needs.
As far as location, Doeren said his priority is in-state players. He’ll also recruit the border states, and he’ll look at Florida for defensive line, running backs and receivers.
“You’re always trying to get better (players) than what you have,” Doeren said. “You’re trying to look at what your talent level is, how you can improve upon your weaknesses. You want to find a player that you want to coach. You want to find a player who loves to play the game. You love to find guys who just love football.”