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Harris, Strothman Gives Huskies High Hopes
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DiehardHuskie Offline
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RB Harris, DE Strothman give Huskies high hopes for season

By MATT TROWBRIDGE, Rockford Register Star
4/16/04


DEKALB -- Joe Novak sings a different tune after watching A.J. Harris run for 157 yards on six carries in Northern Illinois University's spring game Thursday night.

The coach who ended last year's 10-2 season saying "I don't know how you lose Turner and Fleck and Azar and Akil Grant and Randee Drew and say you're going to get better" now thinks they can. All the Huskies do.

"Each year our expectations keep getting higher," said Dan Sheldon, who caught a 45-yard touchdown pass in the first team's 37-0 win over the NIU second team.

Novak knew Sheldon, the Huskies' leading receiver in 2002 who was injured early last year, could replace star receiver P.J. Fleck. And Harris, a two-time Class AA state 110 high hurdles champ, gave a good indication he can replace two-time All-American Michael Turner when he ran 65 yards for a TD on the game's first play. He later added a 70-yard TD run.

"He is real explosive," three-year starting quarterback Josh Haldi said. "Once he gets past the first line of defenders, it's off to the races with him."

And Harris wasn't alone. Adrian Davis added 40 yards on nine carries and Garrett Wolfe 39 yards on six carries.

"We have three really good running backs. They are all very capable of making big plays," Novak said.

It also helps that the offensive line returns six of its top seven blockers.

"I think there are times I could run behind those guys and do OK," Novak said.

NIU shored up its biggest weak spot when Novak moved linebacker Kursten Strothman to defensive end on the final day of spring practice. The senior from Rochelle, a big play-maker in NIU's nickel defense the last two years, will now be counted on to be the Huskies' top pass rusher.

"Kursten will do some things wrong, but somehow he knows where the football is," Novak said. "He plays a third of the time and he's got a ton of big plays."

Novak also said Strothman, who left early Thursday after he re-aggravated a sprained ankle, has struggled to keep his weight down to 240 pounds at linebacker.

"He can go and have a couple of pizzas tonight and be 270," Novak said. "If he puts nine or 10 pounds on now, I won't complain like I would at linebacker. But no more than that.

"You want speed. You want an edge rusher. That's what he adds."

Novak called the switch "a hard thing to ask" a player on the eve of his senior season, but said Strothman instantly agreed. Novak and Haldi said that sacrifice immediately made the Huskies a better team.

"Our job as coaches is to get the best players on the field," Novak said. "So if we have six linebackers and they are better than the defensive ends we have, that was a no-brainer. In his one day of practice there, he looked awfully good. We are a better team now than we were Monday because that kid was willing to make the move. Those unselfish things are awful important to have a good football team."
04-16-2004 11:25 AM
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Post: #2
 
I'm a real big AJ harris fan, DVC alum myself back a long time ago, I hope he does well. Anyone else think being a hurdle champ is going to help him :) .

And good for strothman, I liked him at OLB but its great that he makes our DE's better. Who will be the other olb, hawkins? I'm not very knowledgable about him, anyone have any info on him for me?
04-16-2004 11:45 AM
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HuskieDan Offline
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Being a track guy definitely helps Harris - when he sees a hole, he gets to full speed IN A HURRY! I've said repeatedly that Turner will be the person we miss the least, simply because we're deep with quality at RB. Plus, the OL returns nearly intact, and Van Acker is a lot like Ghilani at C.

Strothman to DE is a great move. Now we have Strothman, Moore and West there. They're high on Oruche, too.

LBs will be Atkinson (MLB), Lee (I suspect at SLB, but don't quote me) and probably Hawkins (at WLB).
04-16-2004 12:02 PM
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Post: #4
 
Although Harris was obviously impressive last night, and should be the number 1 RB, I was also very impressed by Wolfe last night. He was quick the holes, did not go down easily, had some great moves to allude defenders, and looked very condfident back there (all from a guy who basically had to take a year off from football last year). He's only going to get better. Harris and Wolfe will be a very potent 1-2 punch with Davis and Prime, and even Chambers and Pugh all very cabable as well.

Defensively, if we experience the injuries on that side of the ball like we did last year, we could be in some deep do do.
04-16-2004 12:20 PM
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The box scores showed the RB's making a few more pass receptions, I wonder if we are going to try to add more of that. I wouldn't mind that for Josh, hes a great qb but in times I think every QB can use dink and dunkers when their arms aren't the strongest.
04-16-2004 01:44 PM
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NIUGAMBLER Wrote:The box scores showed the RB's making a few more pass receptions, I wonder if we are going to try to add more of that. I wouldn't mind that for Josh, hes a great qb but in times I think every QB can use dink and dunkers when their arms aren't the strongest.
Absolutely; sure made Brian Jones look like a brilliant QB, and it's doing the same thing for Gradkowski at Toledo.

I really like the idea of running misdirection screens and other short possession passing plays through Davis, Wolfe, even AJ, if they're up to it.

Get the ball in the hands of quick, evasive players in the open and see what they can do with it....
04-16-2004 09:29 PM
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