Top-5 football players to watch

By Eddie Garcia

It was a difficult season for NIU football as the team dealt with a multitude of injuries that derailed the season. Five quarterbacks appeared in the last 18 games played for the Huskies, with two season-ending injuries to Drew Hare and Anthony Maddie a year ago.

Despite the team struggling with a 1-6 start to last season, Head Coach Rod Carey and company did not give up. The team battled back to finish the last five games 4-1 overall and finished with a respectable 5-7 record.

Instead of giving up on the season, the next man up was able to step up and get the job done.

NIU lost six offensive starters this off season, two of them being wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who led the team with 1156 reception yards and lead rusher Joel Bouagnon, who led the team on the ground averaging about 74 yards a game.

Just like in 2016, it’s time for the next man up to help take the team to the next level. The following players have shown some potential in the past few seasons that may carry over to make it one interesting upcoming season for the Huskies.

No. 5 – Max Scharping – Offensive linemen

The Huskies allowed eight sacks by the opponent all season, which led the nation in 2016. Their dominant offensive line included two all-conference selections in Scharping and former outside linemen LeVon Myers.

Although, concerns arise on the left side with Myers gone along with former outside linemen Josh Ruka, who accounted for 40 career starts with the Huskies, Scharping’s unprecedented leadership on the field may be exactly what NIU needs to set the tone this season.

No. 4 –Christian Hagan – Kicker

Senior kicker Christian Hagan led NIU in scoring with 78 points, including 45 extra points, along with 11 field goals during the 2016 season.

It is no surprise Hagan ranks fifth on NIU’s all-time kicker scoring list and ninth in overall scoring as he tallied at least one point in 32 consecutive games dating all the way back to Nov. 5, 2014 against Ball State University when Hagen assumed the starting role.

Hagan converted on 11-of-18 field goals last season and was a perfect 5-for-5 within 30 yards. The Huskie senior kicker was the recipient of an academic All-MAC and Distinguished Scholar-Athlete selection and will be a huge component to the team’s offense in 2017.

No. 3 – Shawun Lurry – Defensive back

Senior defensive back Shawun Lurry led NIU with 11 pass break ups in 2016. He was tied with senior defensive back Mayomi Olootu Jr. for most interceptions on the team with three each.

Last season, the secondary was a huge bright spot for NIU on defense combining for 14 total interceptions on the year. Lurry ranks fifth all-time as a Huskie in career pass break-ups with 27 as he led the way in the secondary with a second team All-MAC selection in 2016.

Lurry played in 12 games in 2016 and proved to be a key factor on defense with 38 total tackles, with 2.5 for loss and 26 solo stops last season alone. If he plays just slightly better than last season, he could end up the school’s leader in interceptions as he is just four picks away from the all-time high of 16.

No. 2 – Christian Blake – Wide receiver

Senior wide receiver Christian Blake played in all 12 games with 10 during the 2016 season. He ranked third on the team in receptions with 34 and second in receiving yards with 457.

Blake averaged 38. 1 yards a game and his 13.4 yards per catch average, which led NIU in that category..

With Golladay and former wide receiver Aregeros Turner off the team, Blake is now the next man up and should be the go-to receiver for whoever ends up being the starting quarterback this season.

His experience as an almost everyday starter will play an impactful role for the new receiving core.

No. 1 – Jordan Huff – Runningback

Last but not least, Jordan Huff, redshirt senior running back, had a breakout year last season as he appeared in all 12 games and was ranked second on the team in rushing attempts and rushing yards with 111 runs for 703 yards.

Huff played the tailback position and split time with former running back Joel Bouagnan. With Bouagnan gone and the quarterback role still in question, it looks as if Huff will have the ball in his hands more times than not this season.

Huff averaged 6.3 yards per rush while scoring five touchdowns and losing just nine yards on his 111 carries in 2016. He also caught 10 passes for 70 yards last season along with having some experience as a kick returner with eight kickoff returns for 193 yards. The red-shirt senior running back is due for a break out year in 2017 as his experience on the field may prove helpful to the Huskies.

The Huskies begin their season 8:30 p.m. Nov. 1 against Boston College in DeKalb, Illinois.