Coaches select most improved

By Jim Wozniak

Earlier this month, NIU men’s basketball coach Jim Rosborough handed out awards to his players, and now it is NIU football coach Jerry Pettibone’s turn.

Rosborough’s occasion was the basketball banquet, but Pettibone’s is the end of spring practice. The Huskies enter the final week, with the culmination being the spring game Thursday, but Pettibone took time at Saturday’s practice to give out the award for the most improved players in the spring. The offensive recipient was running back Keith Hurley, and defensive end Tom Klein grabbed defensive honors.

Running back coach Mike Summers said Hurley beat out about four others. He said the main qualities looked for included attitude, leadership and contribution.

“He’s just developed into a good running back,” said Summers, “just trying to gain yards and do things on the perimeter like we want. In our offense (the wishbone) the running backs are, unlike most offenses, as much of a good blocker as a runner. That’s hard for high school running backs who are used to running all the time. Last year, we didn’t contribute much to our offense with our blocks.”

Summers said Hurley, who finished with 73 yards on 42 carries in 1986, has executed those blocks this spring and also has developed mental toughness to outlast the player who covers him.

Klein used to be a linebacker, but the coaching staff has switched him to defensive end. NIU defensive coordinator Tim McGuire said Klein now is competing with Ted Hennings for a starting spot.

“He’s done an xcellent job,” said McGuire. “I thought he worked very hard in the off-season. His footwork, I feel, has greatly improved. He is aggressive. He is knowledgeable. He’s doing the right things. He shows football sense.

“You didn’t know how strong he would push it because he hadn’t played that position before. At the defensive end position, you have to be as diversified as you can. We’ve had that kind of spring where there’s been a lot of guys who’ve stepped up a notch or two.”