Northwestern started practice at 4 p.m. on Monday. Some rain started to fall, but Pat Fitzgerald wanted to keep the Wildcats outside to work on the kicking game. When it became clear the rain wouldn’t relent --- and when lightning was detected in the area --- the Wildcats jogged into their indoor practice facility and resumed without missing a beat.
Also on Monday, Northern Illinois planned for practice to start at 3:30 p.m. But due to a pair of lightning delays, the Huskies didn’t hit the field until 7:30 p.m. While Dave Doeren didn’t get to run the complete practice he had planned, the Huskies still got 90 minutes’ worth of good work.
Northwestern and NIU aren’t that far apart on the field (I’m guessing oddsmakers wouldn’t give NU more than a 3-point edge on a neutral field), but they’re light-years apart in terms of indoor facilities. In fact, Pat Fitzgerald allowed Jerry Kill’s NIU squad to practice at Northwestern in the winter of 2009 as they prepared for the International Bowl.
When the Huskies prepped for last year’s Humanitarian Bowl win, they bussed all the way to Lake Barrington Field House in order to get a proper indoor workout.
Soon, though, the Huskies hope to have an indoor practice facility to call their own. NIU athletic director Jeff Compher announced Tuesday that he has the school’s go-ahead to solicit donations for an IPF. The Huskies need to have at least 40 percent of the project funded, IIRC, before they can stick a shovel in the ground.
There’s a perfect plot of land directly behind the Yordon Center. Not only is adjacent to the football locker room, it’s convenient for all of the other student-athletes who’d be able to use the facility.
If Northern Illinois has designs on becoming the next Boise State or TCU, it’s a crucial step that shows the Huskies are willing to keep pace in college football’s version of the arms race.
I’ll have to finish checking all 120 FBS rosters, but I believe fifth-year senior Kyle Jenkins is the last Driscoll graduate still playing football. The Addison school, which won seven consecutive IHSA state titles, closed its doors after the 2008-09 season.
The Itasca resident played a role on four of those champions and earned Class 4A all-state honors as a senior in 2006, but his career hasn’t been nearly as fortunate since. After piling up 19.5 sacks for Harper JC in 2008, Jerry Kill recruited Jenkins to NIU.
Here’s how his time in DeKalb has gone:
2009: Tore up his knee. Sat out the year.
2010: To shore up an offensive line with limited numbers, Kill moved Jenkins there in the spring of 2010. He gained 15 pounds to be the proper size for an OL, but then was moved to TE in the fall. He didn’t exactly see much action.
“I’ve only played one play in my whole career here,” Jenkins said. “It was against Toledo on special teams. Not even one play from scrimmage.”
Now Jenkins is back on the defensive line, which is where he has always wanted to be. He’s the top backup to all-MAC performer Sean Progar at strong-side defensive end and can’t wait for the season to arrive.
“You have no idea,” he said. “I want to get through camp injury-free and just get into games.”
At most schools, it’s routine for all of the incoming freshmen to arrive on campus for the start of summer school. In essence, they give up their final summer as a kid in order to get a jump start on their college careers.
Pat Fitzgerald has been one of the last coaches to accept that as the norm. Though he continues to speak out against players who leave high school in January of their senior year, Fitzgerald welcomed 13 of his 17 incoming freshmen for summer school.
One who did not show up early? Running back Jordan Perkins. Though the Lodi, Calif., native is a gifted athlete at a relatively thin position (there are just three veterans on scholarship at RB for the Wildcats), he opted to stay home.
“Coach Fitzgerald said it’s my choice,” Perkins said. “So I just stayed home with the family for a little bit. It’s a little bit longer distance, so I can’t just drive home for Thanksgiving or whatever. I just stayed with the family and worked out a lot.”
Then he paused briefly and smiled.
“Obviously, I should have done a little bit more seeing as how they run their program.”
It’s not like Perkins doesn’t understand the commitment necessary to be a college athlete. His bio says his mother, Joanna, played hoops at Cal State Fullerton and his father, Curtis, played football at Ferris State.
He arrived in Evanston on Friday, reported on Saturday and took part in his first practice on Monday. At one point during Monday’s drills, I noticed a coach pointing Perkins to the correct place to line up in the slot. Or maybe he was teaching the proper way to line up. Either way, there’s a learning curve…and not just with the technical stuff.
“It’s just different running here than in California,” Perkins said. “The humidity definitely plays a big role in it. I’ve just got to take it one step at a time and Coach (Jay) Hooten is a great conditioning coach. He’s going to get us ready and fit. I’m just looking forward to the season, whether I play or not.”
Teams don’t have nearly as many two-a-day practices as they used to --- the NCAA used to allow them every other day during the fall --- but the Illini are in the midst of one of their three double sessions today. The second session runs from 6-8:20 p.m., if you’re inclined to rush to Camp Rantoul.
While sophomore Nathan Scheelhaase is the team’s undisputed QB, true sophomore Miles Osei from Prospect and true freshman Reilly O’Toole (Wheaton Warrenville South) will battle to be his backup.
Actually, it’s probably a misnomer to deem it a battle. Because Osei is an excellent runner while O’Toole boasts a better arm, it’s more likely that offensive coordinator Paul Petrino will call on his backups based on the situation.
Osei, who threw 1 pass and had 5 carries last season, worked hard on his passing in the offseason. “Just getting the ball and throwing it through the receivers instead of letting the ball die down,” Osei said. “Especially when they’re wide-open. I nosedived the ball a lot (last year) and I wanted to eliminate that. I still do nosedives every once in a while, but as long as I focus on that I feel confident.”
We’ll get into some of O’Toole’s thoughts in tomorrow’s breakdown. In the meantime, pay attention to Thursday’s Daily Herald for a story on defensive end Whitney Mercilus.