CHICAGO – When Northern Illinois football coach Dave Doeren said Illinois was his top recruiting priority, one city’s importance immediately came to mind.
It took Doeren exactly seven days on the job to travel to Chicago. Doeren, along with members of his coaching staff and athletics director Jeff Compher, held a meet and greet Tuesday at Ditka’s Restaurant.
While the current NCAA dead period limits his interaction with recruits until Friday, the meet and greet was an opportunity for Doeren to get his message out to Chicago’s high school football players.
“Being in the Chicagoland area, [NIU] is a great place for parents to send their sons and watch them play and have a great career,” Doeren said. “We know a lot of them have ambitions of playing in the Big Ten or at Notre Dame, but not everyone gets to go there. This gives them an outlet, and hopefully we provide the resources to make them aware of what we have to offer.”
Being the only Mid-American Conference team in Illinois, NIU often feels like an outlier in its own conference. Nine of the MAC’s 13 teams are in Ohio or Michigan, and NIU is the Western-most affiliate.
The distance makes for some longer trips to away games, but NIU’s proximity to Chicago is a clear advantage.
“It’s the engine that drives us. Without Chicago, I don’t think you’d be able to do the things we’ve done,” said linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz, who was in attendance along with offensive coordinator Matt Canada and defensive coordinator Jay Niemann. “Our heart and our soul has got to come from Chicago. This is where it starts, and this is where it ends.
“This is a hard hat, lunch pail football town. Just that mentality carries over into our (program).”
Doeren isn’t a stranger to Chicago. The former Wisconsin defensive coordinator arrived at NIU with a firm knowledge of the Midwest. His familiarity with the city goes back to Doeren’s playing days at Drake, where he said half of his teammates were Chicago natives.
But this will be the first time he’s recruited the city. Relationships between him and Chicago’s high school coaches and players must be developed and nurtured.
Doeren said it’s an obligation he’s determined to meet.
“You’ve got to have a presence wherever you recruit,” Doeren said. “You have to show up. You have to have a good relationship with the players. And you have to work hard to cultivate (familiarity).”
NIU’s MAC East opponents announced: If NIU avenges its MAC Championship Game loss to Miami, it will have to wait until the postseason.
The RedHawks are not one of the East Division teams NIU will play in 2011. NIU will host Kent State and play Bowling Green and Buffalo on the road. Those three opponents will be added to the five games against West Division rivals to complete NIU’s eight-game MAC schedule.