To stir up a little excitement for the fast-approaching season, Northern Illinois rented a Soldier Field skybox suite on Tuesday and invited the media for a lunchtime shindig. Why Soldier Field? In case you haven’t memorized NIU’s schedule, the Huskies host Wisconsin there on Sept. 17.
With NIU’s first practice still a week away, it was a great opportunity to catch the fellas and first-year head coach Dave Doeren when they’re relaxed.
Among the things I learned while hobnobbing:
1. First-string RB Jasmin Hopkins likes Chipotle…a lot. He’s eating there two and three times per day in an effort to get his weight up to 185 pounds. The 5-foot-7 Hopkins says he’s up to 183.
“I have a friend at Nebraska, (wide receiver) Brandon Kinnie, and he influenced to eat Chipotle,” Hopkins said. “He told me you will gain more weight. I’m up 8 pounds. I get the steak, chicken and rice. I just try to eat as much protein as possible.”
Hopkins, who earned the right to replace Indianapolis Colts free-agent signee Chad Spann with a consistent spring, wants to be 185 pounds in order to take (and give) a pounding. At the same time, Hopkins is accustomed to being a workhorse even without so much weight.
Hopkins entered Fort Scott CC at 156 pounds. He wound up leading all junior-college rushers with 1,931 yards in 2009…and had three games with at least 30 carries.
“I actually had 45 carries one game and felt terrible afterward,” Hopkins said. “Yeah, I was 156 (pounds). But the mentality of just loving the game and wanting to play, it helps you out.”
2. Just because Doeren and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema will be competitors on Sept. 17 doesn’t mean they can’t remain buddies.
Doeren and Bielema spent an extended Memorial Day weekend in Key West, Fla., on a fishing trip --- something they’ve done for the last several years.
Doeren said his best experience might have been the day he spent spearfishing. Apparently he was scuba-diving in the ocean and speared a lovely grouper. He then claimed he had to hurry to the surface with his bloody catch in order to avoid sharks and other predators.
Because Doeren is one of those sorts with a deadpan, understated sense of humor, I couldn’t tell whether he was kidding. For his family’s sake, I hope he was.
3. QB Chandler Harnish, the league’s de facto preseason player of the year, forgot to pack his dress pants for Tuesday’s trip to Detroit for MAC media day. SID Donna Turner had to rush out and purchase some pants. And, yes, she reports Harnish repaid her…so as not to run afoul of NCAA rules.
When I teased the mirthful Harnish about his memory lapse, he turned the focus away from himself by tattling on teammate Sean Progar. Apparently the first-team all-MAC DE forgot his cell phone at their hotel Tuesday morning. Doeren’s wife, Sara, had to go back to the hotel to reclaim it.
Harnish, by the way, isn’t on Facebook or Twitter and deliberately so. He sees other athletes get in trouble for their posts or tweets and figures there’s no upside to being part of either medium.
I’ll share more in the days and weeks ahead. For now, check Thursday’s Daily Herald for a story on fifth-year senior Pat Schiller from Geneva. After tearing up his knee in April 2010 and playing a minor roll in the Huskies’ school-record 11-win season, he’ll be front and center again this fall.