Football team names four as captains

By Frank Rusnak

Seniors Ray Smith, Brian Van Acker, A.J. Harris and Javan Lee were announced captains for the 2005 season Monday by NIU football coach Joe Novak.

This group replaces last year’s quad-captains of linebacker Brian Atkinson, quarterback Josh Haldi, safety Lionel Hickenbottom and offensive tackle Jake VerStraete. This year’s group also has two representatives from offense (Van Acker-offensive line and Harris-running back) and two from defense (Smith-safety and Lee-linebacker).

“It’s an outstanding group,” Novak said. “At the end of spring practice, we kept reminding the team how important this was, that the captains were the designated representatives of this football program and the institution both on and off the field. In that respect, we’ve got some top-notch leaders.”

On April 25 each team member voted for four players where then the votes were added up and captains were announced by Novak to the team. It is preferred the captains be seniors, but not mandatory, Harris said.

Harris ran for 822 yards last year and is the MAC’s No. 6 returning rusher.

Lee’s 119 tackles is the top returning mark in conference.

Smith is the MAC’s No. 2 returning MAC pass defender with 10 pass deflections and two interceptions last season.

Van Acker heads an offensive line that helped the Huskies to the No. 11 rushing attack in the nation with 238.2 yards per game.

Lee and Van Acker were named to the preseason Rotary Lombardi Award watch list.

“I wanted to be a captain pretty bad,” Harris said. “I was lucky to be named. I’m not going to act different, but the only thing I’ll probably do is speak up more and be more positive and just be the best leader I can be.”

The captains will lead their team into preparation for next season and the never-changing goal of a MAC championship.

“It’s been the same goal since I got here: to win a MAC championship,” Smith said. “If we get that then everything will be complete.”

The Huskies are now finishing individual spring workouts as they close out their spring semester classes with final exams next week. Summer workouts begin the second week of June which includes conditioning and lifting weights four days a week.

As Smith’s collegiate career winds down to his final season, he never could’ve predicted the position he’d be in.

“I didn’t see nothing like this happen,” said Smith, about a bowl game victory, national ranking and now being voted a team captain. “At the time [as a freshman], I was just happy to be in college. I’ve just done the best I could and tried to help the team make a name for itself on a national level.”