Frazier’s Corner: Football Season in Review
Hello Huskie Fans,
As many of you know, I was a football student-athlete myself at the University of Alabama and began my career in intercollegiate athletics as a coach. Football has been a part of my life for a very long time. Throughout my career, I have been through many football seasons – with much success at all levels – with many different teams. Each season, each team is completely different and writes its own story.
The story that this year’s Huskie Football team wrote is one of unrealized expectations, yes, but also one of perseverance and resiliency. It is a story of a team that battled injuries to key personnel throughout the season, but we will not use injuries as excuses. We need to find a way to overcome and win, just like other successful, tradition-based programs.
In the end, I was encouraged to see the team come together to win four of its last five games. I saw a senior class that would not let their young teammates, many of whom were called on to play key roles due to injuries, get down on themselves or give up. Those 20 seniors did a phenomenal job of leading this team through one of the most challenging seasons in recent years.
We had five new coaches on staff in 2016, including two new coordinators, who were learning the strengths and weaknesses of their new players, and adjusting to working with each other as a unit. I saw growth and development on the staff level throughout the year in that regard. This year’s team finished with higher per-game averages in total offense, rushing and passing yards while the defense forced more turnovers (interceptions and fumbles) and held opponents to a lower third-down conversion percentage than the previous year.
You may not know this, but every week during the season Coach Carey and I took a walk. Every Thursday (or whatever day in the football week was Thursday), we spent an hour walking around campus and talking about exactly what was going on with the football program: the injuries, the match-up, recruiting, academics, you name it. We talked about all aspects of the program. Those walking meetings were invaluable to me as I assessed the 2016 season. I also attended practice at least once or twice each week and was on hand for Coach Carey’s weekly radio shows and, of course, for every game.
Through these interactions, I know that our coaching staff worked unbelievably hard, always maintaining a businesslike demeanor, a laser focus on the next game and a true desire to see their players and the team perform better on game day. No one – except maybe me – wanted to win more than that group.
Overall, the team, the coaches and the staff “never flinched” and I’m extremely proud of the way they stuck together and continued to represent NIU throughout the year.
When I arrived at NIU back in 2013, one of the first statements I heard from donors, season ticket members and others around the program was that we needed to upgrade the non-conference schedule. And so we went out and did that. We have been and will continue to be aggressive with our scheduling. South Florida, Wyoming and San Diego State all led their divisions and the latter two played for the Mountain West title this year. Our overall schedule ranked in the Top 40 in the country and was second only to Kent State as the toughest in the MAC.
The idea was to set up NIU to win that Access Bowl spot. Our schedule puts us in position to do that, but you have to take care of business and win the games, which we will do in the future. Looking ahead, our challenging schedules continue with Boston College and Eastern Illinois at Huskie Stadium and road games at Nebraska and San Diego State next year, and teams like Utah and BYU in coming seasons. We are excited about our schedule and the national conversation it brings. This is what we wanted. Now we have to work, recruit and go out and make it happen.
Recruiting has gone well. The coaching staff hit the road right after Thanksgiving and are spread out across the country getting after it. We saw this year that we had young players – freshmen and redshirt freshmen – who could and did step in, like Daniel Isom and Trequan Smith in the secondary, Mitchell Brinkman at tight end and Jordan Steckler on the offensive line. I’m encouraged by the young talent I saw at practices and the way they stepped up in games. We have 15 starters returning for 2017, including nine on defense, and they’ll be joined by a talented group of freshmen and several impact transfers who redshirted in 2016, as well as an incoming class of nationally sought-after recruits.
In the end, the 2016 Huskie Football team found a way to win, even after trailing at Eastern Michigan 21-0 at halftime. That 31-24 come-from-behind victory said a lot about the student-athletes we have on this team. I wish you all could have been there, as I was, in that locker room at halftime when I heard senior defensive tackle Corey Thomas give one of the most impressive and inspirational speeches I have ever heard. It was a message that could ONLY have been given by a senior teammate who loves football and loves NIU. Remembering it today still gives me chills. There is NO DOUBT these seniors, and our players, played their hearts out this year and wanted to win every game.
Unfortunately, there were plenty of close losses on the year, two in triple overtime and two more by seven points or less. I want to assure you that no one is happy about even one loss, let alone seven. In assessing the football program, I have looked at the season and the program in total with a particular focus on the factors mentioned above – recruiting, roster make-up (depth), scheduling, coaching staff, facilities, budget and the national landscape of college football.
In short, I’m confident going forward we’re going to do what we need to do to get after it on offense, defense and special teams. This year was a blip; we understand that. The bottom line is we will put a quality NIU Football product out there. The Huskies are a winning team, a bowl-worthy team and a championship-level team. We will continue to get that done. I’m proud of our tradition of winning here.
Now I want to address our fans. First, I want to thank Huskie Nation, the fans that support us unconditionally and show up on a consistent basis. I am also issuing a challenge to those who haven’t been to Huskie Stadium. Come out to DeKalb and show the same kind of loyalty and passion these players have, and support them going forward.
I look forward to seeing all of you in 2017.
Sean T. Frazier
Associate Vice-President and Director of Athletics
Save the date for the Victor E. Ball on April 29!