Football’s journey to top program in Illinois


Former redshirt quarterback Jordan Lynch prepares for a throw during an Oct. 19 game against the Central Michigan Chippewas. The Huskies would go on to win by a margin of 21 points.

By Chris Loggins

Storied football programs will forever hold their places in history, and NIU is no different.

From the days of the undefeated 1963 team, to the 1983 hall of fame team who got NIU its first bowl win as a major college, the Huskies have always managed to cement their legacy as a great college football program. Despite playing in the same state as Big Ten programs, they have remained the top team in all of Illinois, and things don’t look to be changing.

Undefeated Season

Led by hall-of-fame quarterback George Bork and head coach Howard Fletcher, 1963 generated an unprecedented season as the Huskies went undefeated and became national champions. A perfect 10-0, including four wins of 40-plus points, gave the team national attention and led to them being voted the country’s top College Division unit. The group would go on to be inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame in 1986.

National Football League

The team has spawned 35 NFL players, three of which have played in Super Bowls. Those include defensive back Clarence Vaughn for the Washington Redskins, defensive tackle Hollis Thomas for the Philadelphia Eagles, and offensive tackle Ryan Diem for the Indianapolis Colts.

Possibly the most successful to make the transition from NIU to NFL was running back Michael Turner, playing for the San Diego Chargers and the Atlanta Falcons. Turner became a two-time pro bowler and made it to two All-NFL teams as a member of the Falcons, and holds the record for most rushing touchdowns in Falcons history. Turner would also go on to be ranked in the top 100 players in the NFL twice, according to Fox Sports. In nine NFL seasons, he piled up 7,338 rushing yards and 66 rushing touchdowns.

2010 to present

2010 marked a change in the fortunes of the team, as they had their second 10 win season in nearly 30 years. The group went 10-3 and undefeated in the conference.

Since, the team has never failed to reach 11 wins in a season and have taken over as a dominant team, not only in the MAC, but in the entire state. Its current run was highlighted in 2013 with an Orange Bowl appearance against Florida State that gave it national notoriety and solidified it as a top team. Despite taking a tough loss in the spotlight, the Huskies have continuously gotten better and remained a great force.

Heisman Contenders

There has yet to be a Heisman trophy winner in the history of the program, but three years have resulted in finalists for college football’s best individual award. The first was running back LeShon Johnson in 1993, finishing sixth in voting after a year in which he rushed for nearly 2,000 yards. The next two Heisman finalist appearances came in consecutive years (2012, 2013) from quarterback Jordan Lynch, who finished seventh in 2012 and third in 2013 after two seasons in which he became a two-time MAC Offensive Player of the Year for the Huskies, before being drafted to the NFL.

MAC Success

NIU has made it to six MAC Championship games, winning a total of three. All three MAC wins for the team have come in the last four years.

Looking Ahead

It will always be important for fans to see how far their favorite teams have come and the legacies they have created. History repeats itself, and that continues to be the case for NIU. Sports teams are often times the heart and soul of a university. They bring bragging rights, they bring great pride, and they send shockwaves across campuses. Here’s to another successful year of Huskie football.