Football looks toward its 25th year


The 1993 season will be very significant for the NIU football program. Not only is it their silver anniversary (to celebrate 25 years in the major college ranks), but it’s also their first season in the Big West Conference.

The Huskies joined the Big West in May of 1992; marking the first time they will compete in a NCAA Division I-A conference since 1985, when they chose to become a major independent.

With the new conference affiliation comes an increased chance for a bowl game. The conference champions from the Big West face the conference champions from the Mid-American Conference in the Las Vegas Bowl.

“This football team plans on competing for the championship of the Big West Conference and the right to go to the Las Vegas Bowl,” said Head Coach Charlie Sadler during spring workouts.

The other teams in the Big West Conference are newcomers Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech and Southwestern Louisiana. Rounding out the conference are defending champion Nevada, Pacific, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Utah State and Nevada-Las Vegas. For 1993, NIU will face the first six teams on that list.

This year’s Huskies feature 40 returning lettermen (20 each on offense and defense), including 16 starters. The most notable is senior tailback LeShon Johnson, the nation’s number two returning rusher. Through July, four major sport magazines had chosen Johnson as their pre-season pick for second team All-America.

Huskie fans can expect productive seasons from a number of players. There are ten All-Big West Conference Candidates on this year’s squad.

The 6-0, 201, Johnson finished last season with 265 carries for 1,338 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 121.6 yards-per-game. Senior fullback Brian Cotton, 6-0, 224, is another Huskie to watch. Cotton finished last season with 300 yards and three touchdowns on 67 carries.

The Huskies also expect a big season from two members of the receiving unit. Senior Raymond Roberts, a 6-3, 242, tight end, finished last season with 17 catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns. Vaurice Patterson, a 5-11, 165, Junior split end, ended his 1992 season with 23 catches for 288 yards.

Also worth watching on offense are seniors Tim O’Brien, an offensive guard and Brian Steger, a placekicker.

On defense, the Huskies are expecting great things from three All-Big West Conference Candidate linebackers. Steve Wild, Tony Smith and Gerald Nickelberry combined for 356 tackles, five sacks, four fumble recoveries and four interceptions.

Junior cornerback MacArthur Griffin leads a strong secondary. Griffin finished last season number eight in tackles and had four pass deflections.

“We will be a better defense with more experience,” said Gary Evans, defensive coordinator and secondary coach. “We have a lot of depth at linebacker and some new faces on the defensive line.”

The defense is looking to improve on its rushing yards allowed. Last season the Huskies allowed 187.8 yards-per-game, while holding opponents’ passing yards to 161.4 per game.

“We want to keep opponents below 300 yards of total offense,” said Evans.

Evans said Huskie fans can look forward to an exciting season from an experienced offense. Evans predicts a lot of points and long drives this season.

“There are so many players that can make big plays on the offensive side of the ball,” said Evans, specifically pointing to Johnson, Cotton and Roberts. “We hope to have one of the best seasons we’ve had in a while around here.”

The Huskies get set to open their season Sept. 2 at Iowa State. The first home game is September 18 versus Big West conference rival Arkansas State. Incidentally, NIU defeated the Indians last season in Jonesboro, Ark., 31-0.

The 86th Homecoming Game will be Oct. 16 against Big West rival Pacific. The Huskies play four other first-time opponents on the road. They are Iowa State, Indiana, Nevada and Mississippi.