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Despite losses, NIU pleased with recruiting class
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/3/2010 4:22 PM | Updated: 2/3/2010 5:15 PM

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Can Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill and his staff spot talent? There's proof in more than just the Huskies' 2010 recruiting class.

NIU reaped an early oral commitment from Slidell, La., wide receiver Armaud Williams, but he wound up switching to Arkansas before signing Wednesday with LSU.

The Huskies also earned commitments from Prospect High School quarterback Miles Osei and Alabama fullback Jay Prosch, but they wound up accepting late offers from Illinois.

But don't feel too badly for Kill. He's just relieved BCS schools didn't swoop in and swipe more of his recruits at the last minute.

As Kill detailed the Huskies’ 21-man scholarship group -- which features 16 freshmen, four junior-college standouts and an NIU freshman baseball player whose scholarship switches to football because he’ll pull double-duty -- the phrases “freak,” “beast” and “I can’t believe we’re getting him” kept escaping from his lips.

"The biggest thing (this class) brings is kids that want to be here," Kill said. "The key to this class is getting very good offensive linemen and we feel like we've done that. The skill players that we did recruit, they all can run."

Northern Illinois retains 16 starters from last year's International Bowl team, so there's not much need for this class to provide an immediate impact.

But in Fort Scott tailback Jasmin Hopkins, who earned national junior college player of the year honors, and Northwest Mississippi quarterback Casey Weston, who led all jucos in passing yards per game, Kill injected extra competition at those positions.

Hopkins, who enrolled in January, rushed 322 times for a national-best 1,931 yards and 16 scores. The Stanley, N.C. native might not take over for Chad Spann (1,038 yards, 19 TDs) and Me'co Brown (645 yards, 4 TDs), but the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Hopkins won't take a back seat either.

"He's built just like Garrett Wolfe," Kill said. "He's not a stocky guy. He's more of a sleek guy and he carried the ball over 600 times in two years in junior college and never missed a game, never got hurt. That tells me something. It's a tremendous get for us."

The 6-2, 215-pound Weston led his Alabama high school to a Class 6A state title before going to Northwest Mississippi and throwing for 4,943 yards and 43 touchdowns as a two-year starter. The Huskies jumped on Weston, who's more of a drop-back passer but ran the spread at Northwest, after Osei moved on.

Starting quarterback Chandler Harnish's midseason knee injury reminded Kill that NIU can't have too many quarterbacks.

"He can flat play," Kill said. "I don't feel like we have to take a chance with (Harnish's knee). We've got a lot of faith in DeMarcus (Grady) and Jordan (Lynch) and A.J. (Hill), but I want security and I want competition. We're making our team better, that's the bottom line."

Speaking of lines, much of the interior gold NIU mined won't become evident for a few years.

Acutely aware he'll have just nine offensive linemen available for spring drills, Kill picked up four incoming freshmen and Harper College freshman tackle Matt Battaglia to replenish that unit.

On defense, Kill didn't want to compare Kearney, Mo., defensive end Joe Windsor to 2009 NFL first-round pick Larry English-but he did anyway.

The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Windsor, who posted 15.5 sacks as a senior and 32.5 for his career, won MaxPreps' Missouri defensive player of the year honor while leading his team to the Class 4A state title.

"This kid hang-cleans 385 pounds, which is unbelievable," Kill said. "He's got great power. He's got the same dip that Larry has. I'm not saying he's Larry English, but he's a younger version of that type of guy. Great explosion. I can't believe we're getting him."