DeKALB — Ever since he played at Drake, Northern Illinois football coach Dave Doeren has heard about Iowa football constantly.
Based in Des Moines, it was hard not to hear about the Hawkeyes.
When Doeren would pick up the town’s newspaper, the Des Moines Register, there were three or four pages on Iowa alone. The Hawkeyes were top dog.
“When you’re living in Iowa, the Hawkeyes dominate the news,” Doeren said at Tuesday’s NIU news conference.
After Iowa, it was Iowa State, a school roughly a half hour north of Des Moines, getting the coverage. Northern Iowa received headlines as well, being a dominant I-AA team.
Doeren’s Drake team was almost forgotten with the presence of those programs. The Hawkeyes went 29-18-1 under legendary coach Hayden Fry from 1990-93, the four years Doeren played at Drake.
“We always felt like we were the red-headed stepchild, being at Drake. And we were,” said Doeren, who was also an assistant coach at Drake from 1995-97. “So I look forward to playing against them, and it has nothing to do with our game, but just growing up you kind of looked up to Iowa as the standard of what you wanted to become.”
NIU’s second-year coach got more familiar with Iowa as an assistant coach at Wisconsin, when the two teams played annually for the Heartland Trophy.
These days Doeren can’t get away from the Hawkeyes, even while living in DeKalb. His wife, Sara, has family members that own bed and breakfasts in Iowa City. She also has a brother and sister who went to Iowa.
Doeren isn’t shy about saying there are bragging rights on the line Saturday at Soldier Field. But even though he has family members who are Iowa fans, they will be sitting on NIU’s side during the game.
“They’re going to wear black and red,” Doeren said. “Blood’s thicker than water.”
Doeren will be trying to extend the nation’s longest winning streak Saturday. Entering just his second year at NIU, he already has a conference championship under his belt.
His career could have taken a different path back in the late 1990s when Doeren applied for a coaching position at Iowa. Doeren was a graduate assistant at USC and had a phone interview with current Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, right after Ferentz got the Hawkeyes job.
Saturday, the two will be on opposite sidelines.
“Obviously, I didn’t get hired, but I thought he handled it with unbelievable class,” Doeren said. “The way that he dealt with me, the way he talked to me.”
• Northern Illinois released its depth chart for the Iowa game before Tuesday’s news conference.
There weren’t really any surprises, but five true freshmen were listed – running back Keith Harris Jr, tight end Desroy Maxwell, defensive end Perez Ford, cornerback Marlon Moore and walk-on wide receiver Jacob Brinlee.
NIU head coach Dave Doeren doesn’t like to play true freshmen unless he knows that player can help the team win.
“We discuss it a lot. I don’t like burning a guy’s redshirt if he’s not going to be an integral part or have the ability to benefit greatly from the year,” Doeren said.
• Senior tight end Jason Schepler, a Sycamore graduate, has been sitting out practice every other day while recovering from a knee injury. Schepler said the recovery has been going fine. He’s listed as one of two starting tight ends on NIU’s depth chart.
“Recovery’s going really well. Knee’s been feeling great,” Schepler said. “It’s fun to get back out there with my teammates. I think taking that year or whatever off, and just being able to come back and practice with my teammates, that’s what it’s all about.”