Something’s in the air; spring football, drizzle

By Chris Sigley

Although it’s been four months since football season ended, something in the air at Tuesday’s NIU spring practice opener might have led the squad to believe it had picked up where it left off.

Dark, drizzly skies and a sloshy field had set the scene Nov. 12 when the team departed Huskie Stadium with a 15-7 season-finale win over Western Michigan. And the skies weren’t any bluer Tuesday.

But that didn’t surprise NIU coach Jerry Pettibone. Without doing any rain dances, the Huskie boss thinks he could pretty much schedule bad weather like clockwork.

“We could probably have a company and take it to some place in the world where there’s a drought, plan an NIU practice and make a couple million dollars—and then build the other side of the (Huskie) stadium,” Pettibone said.

Rain or no rain, spring football practice continues the next five weeks—four days a week—until the April 29 game. The annual event is an intrasquad contest between the first and second-string teams, which are chosen by the coaches over the duration of practice.

Though the challenge of outside competition is absent, Pettibone stressed the importance of the spring football season.

“The quality of the game would drop off dramatically if spring football were eliminated,” Pettibone said. “This is the time where you really evaluate your players’ competitiveness and toughness, because there’s very little time in the fall to prepare for the season. (Now) is when you evaluate your team and put the players in their positions.”

Finding a No. 1 quarterback will be a top priority for Pettibone and his staff. Since senior Marshall Taylor was forced to resign his status as the signal caller, the void is left to fill.

But not if Taylor has anything to say about it.

“I came to get a suit,” said a boisterous Taylor, who wandered into the stadium midway through practice. “I just found out I’ve still got another year!”

But reality has set in with Pettibone, who so far sees sophomore Stacey Robinson as the first one to take down the ‘help wanted’ sign.

“Stacey was there at the end of the fall, he was the backup during the season—he had earned that right,” Pettibone said. “He had limited game experience, but he did improve a great deal during practice.”

Robinson, who was a Proposition 48 sophomore, said he wasn’t worried about being compared to Taylor because the situation hasn’t presented itself yet. However, it is likely that comparisons will be made between the two since Robinson was the number one backup for the second part of the 1987-88 season.

“Backing up Marshall was the greatest thing,” Robinson said. “It’s hard because you lose a lot of confidence as a Proposition 48.”

Pettibone said the next potential QB in line would be senior James Darby. Darby not only went through spring practice last year, but he started for the Huskies in their victory against Middle Tennessee State.

Kevin Barry, a second year walk-on who has “an understanding of the offense and is a good athlete” is also a possibility for the job, Pettibone said.