Spring practice begins

By Jeff Kirik

The familiar sound of popping pads filled the air around Huskie Stadium Monday as Jerry Pettibone’s football squad opened spring practice.

The Huskies, who finished last season with a 5-5-1 record, will practice four times a week until April 23, when they conclude spring practice with an intrasquad scrimmage.

Pettibone said his coaching staff will use spring practice to evaluate their players—especially the younger ones—and place them at their best positions. The fourth-year Huskie coach said he hopes to know which players will be in the starting spots before the team starts practicing in the fall.

“We also want to improve the entire team to the degree where we’re a better team at the end of spring practice than we were at the end of last season,” Pettibone said.

Two critical spots Pettibone said he wants to improve in the spring sessions are the quarterback and offensive line positions. He said he is looking for two quarterbacks who are capable of running the complicated wishbone offense.

That spot in the lineup would have been one of the Huskie strengths this spring if junior quarterback Marshall Taylor had not injured his ankle in the 1987 season finale against Nevada-Las Vegas. Taylor, who wore only sweats and a helmet to Monday’s practice, will be able to participate in some non-contact drills, but will not play in the spring scrimmage.

The three quarterbacks trying to catch the coaching staff’s eyes in case Taylor is not ready by the season are junior college transfer James Darby and freshmen walk-ons Kevin Berry and Corey Scandin.

Three veterans from the NIU offensive front finished their careers in 1987. Seniors Dan Graham, John Sugrue and Ted Karamanos played out their eligibility, leaving a huge hole for the Huskies to fill.

“There are some good players there that have been there in the past,” Pettibone said. “The players are there to do it. It’s just a matter of finding the right combination.”

Pettibone put his team through an extensive four-day-a-week conditioning program in the first half of the semester. That program concluded when each player was tested for strength, speed and leaping ability, March 7-10.

In the testing, sophomore receiver Mark Clancy claimed the title of fastest Huskie, while defensive tackle Darrel Strickling dominated the strength category. Clancy won the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.47 seconds and tied cornerback Earl Upton for the best vertical leap of 32uu inches.

Strickling registered team-highs with a 650-pound squat and a 420-pound bench press. He also set a school record with a 390-pound effort on the inclined bench press. Linebacker Mike Higgins and defensive end Ted Hennings tied for a team-best in the clean-lift competition with 300-pound lifts.

“We had more personal bests in these (testing) areas than we’ve ever had before. This is the biggest, strongest and fastest team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Pettibone said.