Sadler: Team focused, but still one year away

By Wes Swietek

Last year for the NIU football team was described as a transition season.

But even with a season under the Huskies’ belts, the upcoming campaign might be called Transition II.

Second-year head coach Charlie Sadler is installing a more pass-oriented offense and several positions are being manned by new players during the current spring practices.

And with the recent NCAA legislation limiting those practices, Sadler has to install the changes without the luxury of time.

“So far, we’ve only been able to have a few padded practices,” Sadler said. “We’re trying to install new plays but you’re limited with non-padded practices—it’s like trying to learn how to play basketball without a ball.

“I think the limit on 15 practices is realistic, but they need to all be padded.”

The biggest holes for the Huskies to fill are provided by the loss of fullback Adam Dach, the school’s No. 3 all-time rusher, and Steve Henriksen, the nation’s No. 2 tackler with 191 stops. Also gone are defensive end Scott Van Bellinger, nose guard Eric White, center Mike Westrick, punter Dave Jensen and kicker Willy Roy Jr.

But the Huskies do return 42 letter winners and add a talented recruiting class.

“We’ve been very pleased with the guys returning on both sides of the ball,” Sadler said. “The players are much more focused this season.”

On the quarterback front, last year’s regular, Stacey McKinney, is being switched to wide receiver, leaving senior Rob Rugai leading freshman Ron Reichert and transfer Scott Crabtree for the No. 1 QB spot.

Expected to be doing a lot of the running for NIU is redshirt junior LeShon Johnson, a transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M who’s being touted as a potential 1,000-yard gainer. Johnson sat out last season because of academic problems.

“LeShon is starting off at a high tempo. He has all the ability we thought he had, we just need him to stay healthy,” Sadler said.

As the Huskies prepare to culminate spring practice with the annual intrasquad game on April 25, Sadler feels his squad will be better this year but are still a year away.

“I still think we’re about a recruiting class away from having the depth and balance we need as a football team,” Sadler said.