By Nick Smith

Not known for his exaggerations, NIU football coach Joe Novak said Wednesday that this year’s class of recruits is probably the most athletic of his tenure.

Of his 17 recruits, several stand out thanks to stellar prep careers and strong potential.

One of the Huskies’ biggest name recruits is quarterback Billy Lowe. A native of Lakeland, Fl., the left-handed Lowe helmed the undefeated No. 1-ranked high school team in the country in 2005.

On the offensive line, Fenwick’s Panan Tense enters the NIU program with an ideal size of 6 feet 4 inches and 315 pounds. Tense was the No. 35-ranked guard recruit in the nation, according to

Joining him is first-team all-state pick, Jason Onyebuagu, from Indianapolis, Ind.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Huskies bolstered a secondary that loses strong safety and captain Ray Smith to graduation.

Most notable is the addition of Driscoll Catholic safety John Tranchitella. Ranked by as the No. 43 safety recruit in the country, Tranchitella was a two-way star who also played wide receiver and holds two school track records.

Alex Kube of Cary-Grove is pretty versatile as well. Kube played both safety positions, running back, wide receiver and returner while garnering multiple first-team all-state awards. He is ranked as the No. 72 safety recruit by

“We wanted athletes, especially in the secondary,” recruiting coordinator Mike Sabock said. “In our defensive scheme, our safeties get involved and get a lot of tackles. We wanted guys who were big and athletic and could deliver a hit.”

NIU has made a name for itself with top-flight running backs and maybe Ricky Crider will be the next. Crider finished his career in Evansville, Ind. as the No. 9 all-time career rusher in state history with 6,356 yards. Last season, Crider rushed for 2,478 yards and 33 touchdowns and was named Class 5A Player of the Year.

As talented as the class is, Novak and Sabock were quick to say they don’t expect any of the recruits to start next season.

“Hopefully not,” Sabock said. “We think we’re a deep and talented enough team that we don’t need any of those guys to step up and start right away. But at the same time, it seems like every year we have guys who do see some significant time on the field.”