B Page -- Aug. 30, 2010

CSM Satu Mare

CSU's Klein to Romania  

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"This is a great opportunity for me and I am looking forward to playing against some of the top competition in the world," Klein said. "It's a chance for me to make a name for myself and put Cleveland State on the map while playing overseas. I have a lot of family that is excited about coming over to see me play and hopefully they will be able to spread their visits out over a period of time."

"All of us at Cleveland State are very excited for Kailey as she begins the next phase of her playing career," CSU head coach Kate Peterson Abiad said.

"When Kailey came to Cleveland State as a freshman from a small town, it would have been very difficult to envision her flying halfway around the world to play basketball. But her going to play professionally in Romania is a tribute to how much she has grown as a player and as a person over the last four years. We are all very proud of her."

Located in northern Romania, near the borders of Hungary and Ukraine, Satu Mare is known as the "Gateway to Western Europe." and translates to "big village" in English.

Klein concluded her career at CSU as arguabley the top player in program history, finishing her senior year ranked first in the Horizon League in scoring (19.0) and sixth in rebounding (7.3).

 Numai Baschet

She saved her best for last, scoring 80 points in three Horizon League tournament games, earning MVP honors and helping the Vikings win the league title and automatic berth to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.

In the first round NCAA game at Notre Dame, Klein capped her career with a 31 point effort, including 21 straight points during a stretch in the first half.

Klein's 80 points were a league tournament record, helping her become just the second player in league history to earn tournament MVP honors more than once (2008 & 2010).

She finished her career as the all-time leading scorer in CSU history with 2,140 points, ranking second all-time in the Horizon League. She is one of just three players in league history to score 2,000 career points.

In addition, Klein ranks first in school history free throws made (605), free throws attempted (762) and minutes played (4,097), third in field goals made (686), field goals attempted (1,591), three-pointers made (163) and offensive rebounds (279), fifth in three-pointers attempted (490) and eighth in assists (311) and rebounds (733).

The 2008-09 Horizon League co-Player of the Year, Klein became just the second player in school history to lead the team in scoring in each of her four seasons.

She earned nine Horizon League Player of the Week awards during her career, tying her for the second most all-time, and averaged 20.5 points and 5.7 rebounds in eight career games against BCS schools.

Huskies MAC Preview 

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This year's offense features more good skill players than the first two years, but the Huskies must replace two first-team All-MAC linemen and still don't figure to make scoreboards explode. Fortunately for the offense, NIU's defense is rich in linemen and cornerbacks and ought to be even better than last year's group that led the MAC with just 330.3 yards allowed per game.

As for Kill's well-known penchant for keeping his staff intact? Popular wide receivers coach (and recruiting coordinator) P.J. Fleck left for a similar job at Rutgers in the offseason. Fleck did a terrific job selling his alma mater, but Kill acted swiftly to add Division III offensive savant Jim Zebrowski to the staff.

Zebrowski ran the offense at Wisconsin-Whitewater, which averaged 42.5 points and 489.6 yards per game on the way to winning the 2009 Division III title. Zebrowski's arrival again re-emphasized the long-time teamwork and unselfishness on Kill's staff. Zebrowski's specialty is quarterbacks and the passing game, so veteran QB coach Pat Poore volunteered to shift to the wide receivers. 

During the first three months of 2010, the NIU coaching staff fretted the Huskies wouldn't have any reliable quarterbacks in the fall. By the end of spring ball in late April, suddenly offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and his cohorts found themselves with three terrific options in the junior class. Here's how this sudden surplus happened: Redshirt junior incumbent Chandler Harnish (6-2, 219) injured his right knee late in an Oct. 17 loss at Toledo and missed the next three games. He returned at less than 100 percent in a relief role on Nov. 12 against Ball State, then started NIU's final three games including the 27-3 International Bowl loss to USF. He finished the year hitting 143-of-223 passes (64.1 percent) for 1,670 yards, 11 TDs and six interceptions. He also rushed for 229 yards and two scores.

"After the season it was, 'He's going to have to have surgery and then go from there,' " Limegrover said. "We had that in our mind, but then they started to look around and said, 'Boy, this thing potentially could be a lot worse than we initially thought. This could be career-ending.' This was right around during recruiting."

That led the Huskies to recruit the nation's most-prolific junior college quarterback. Alabama native Casey Weston (6-2, 215), who threw for 2,871 yards and 27 TDs in nine games for Northwest Mississippi Junior College in 2009, signed with NIU in February and showed up on campus in June to inhale the system. He'll have three years to play two seasons.

"He's got a gunslinger mentality," Limegrover said. "He's a natural and he's going to pick things up quickly."

So when March dawned, the Huskies assumed Harnish needed surgery and knew Weston wouldn't arrive until the summer. That left redshirt junior DeMarcus Grady (6-1, 203) as the only healthy and experienced guy for spring ball. The swift and elusive Grady owned a 5-0 record as a starter -- including four starts in Harnish's stead in 2009 -- but NIU's coaching staff generally limited his game plans to running plays and short passes. Need proof? He rushed 59 times for 330 yards and one TD last year while completing 25-of-43 passes for 280 yards, three TDs and two picks.

"In the past, what we tried to do was play to DeMarcus' strengths," Limegrover said. "Throwing the ball down the field wasn't in that smaller package. What we said this spring was, we don't want to limit him. We don't want to put him in a box. We're going to let him sink or swim. We're going to give him the width and the breadth of the offense from a throwing standpoint. That's where he made huge strides forward."

Wait, there's one more twist to go. While Grady was busy blossoming on the field, doctors re-evaluated Harnish's knee and decided that not only was his injury not career-threatening ... he could start participating in spring ball. The coaches even allowed Harnish to be "live" during the scrimmage that capped spring ball.

Long story short? The Huskies will have a three-way derby in the fall, provided Weston picks up the offense as quickly as everyone expects.

"If you're going to have a quarterback controversy," Limegrover said, "it's better to have it this way than to have this vast wasteland. We feel pretty fortunate."

Third-team All-MAC scat back Me'co Brown left school during the winter with two seasons of eligibility remaining. That would be a tough blow for most teams -- Brown started most games and posted 645 yards and four scores during 2009 -- but the Huskies might not miss him at all.

That's because first-team All-MAC runner Chad Spann (5-9, 198) leads a backfield that Limegrover expects to go four-deep. Spann returns for his final season after stacking up 1,038 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2009. He also caught 10 passes for 122 yards and another score, which allowed him to finish 12th nationally in scoring with 9.23 points per game. Spann sat out spring ball after undergoing shoulder surgery, though it was more of a precautionary measure.

"He's the kind of kid that he doesn't have a halfway gear," Limegrover said. "If you were to tell him, 'We're going to put you in a green jersey and not have any contact,' that's not in his DNA. He fits our offense great. He's the complete package as far as the shiftiness, the speed, the power."

With Spann out of the mix in the spring, that allowed redshirt senior Ricky Crider (5-9, 190), junior college transfer Jasmin Hopkins (5-9, 174) and Iowa State transfer Cameron Bell (6-2, 242) to carve out their roles in the running game.

Crider arrived at NIU in 2006 with a decent amount of hoopla, but he suffered a harrowing broken leg as a redshirt freshman while covering a kickoff at Wisconsin. He still has a rod in his lower leg to remember the injury and owns just 60 career carries for 265 yards and one TD, but he enjoyed a strong spring to earn the second-string slot heading into fall camp.

"He's a guy that gets overlooked," Limegrover said. "There's always somebody you're trying to put in front of him. This spring was the first time he was 100 percent healthy, and he is so smart and he's such an efficient back. He's not sexy with what he does. It's not like you drop your jaw and go, 'Wow,' but he's really productive and he's really consistent. He's like having another coach on the field. He needs to be a coach when he's done, because he gets it."

Hopkins, who ought to remind NIU fans of former great Garrett Wolfe, arrived at school for the spring semester after being named the NJCAA's Offensive Player of the Year. He piled up 1,931 yards and 16 touchdowns for Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College, then needed a bit of time to get acclimated to NIU's system.

"Once he got into a rhythm and started feeling comfortable, you could see why he was such a special player at the junior college level," Limegrover said. "For how small he is, he's got a little bit of everything. He's got the knack. He's fearless."

Bell, who sat out last season, gets to use NIU's opener at Iowa State as a chance to show the Cyclones what they missed when they moved him to linebacker. "Cameron Bell is a Brahma bull," Limegrover said. "He gets going downhill and he is a physical presence. It isn't going to be fancy, but all of a sudden he's going to pop up four or five or six yards later. He'll move the chains for you."

Senior fullbacks Kyle Skarb (6-2, 226) and Connor Flahive (6-0, 235) began their college careers as linebackers, but they switched platoons when Kill arrived and there weren't any fullbacks on the roster. Skarb (11 catches, 189 yards, one TD in 2009) must be accounted for in the passing game. He caught the Huskies' lone touchdown in the 2008 Independence Bowl.

Northern Illinois returns four of the five wideouts who posted at least 10 catches in 2009. The clear king of the group is senior Landon Cox (6-3, 220), a physical specimen who might be even better regarded as a blocker than a receiver. Considering Cox paced the Huskies with 45 catches, 535 yards and four touchdowns, that's quite a statement."He's never going to have that game-breaking speed, but he's such a physical presence on the perimeter," Limegrover said. "He's got great hands. We almost treat him, at times, like a tight end off the line. We move him around, block with him. He's great for play-action because he does such a good job of blocking. He's going to do the nitty-gritty."

Promising redshirt freshman Anthony Johnson (6-3, 189), who high-jumped seven feet in high school, backs up Cox at the "V" receiver.

Junior Willie Clark (6-1, 206) worked his way from walk-on status into the starting split-end job last season. He caught 19 passes for 220 yards and one score. True sophomore Martel Moore (6-2, 182), who shared the stage with Johnson at San Antonio's Earl Warren High School, will get a lot of snaps at split end as well. Moore caught 16 passes for 189 yards last fall.

Sophomore Perez Ashford (5-10, 180) finished spring as the No. 1 flanker and slot guy. Ashford, similar to Moore, boasts ridiculous hands and caught 10 passes for 83 yards as a true freshman.

Redshirt junior Nathan Palmer (5-11, 197), who made a huge splash with two long touchdown catches in NIU's 2008 opener at Minnesota, has rebounded from a tough 2009 where he caught just five passes for 70 yards and one score. He remains a huge big-play threat. "Nate really matured quite a bit from last year to this year," Limegrover said.

Former walk-on Jason Schepler (6-3, 265) returns as NIU's top tight end. The junior caught just one pass for four yards last year, as he's more of an assistant offensive tackle.

Redshirt junior walk-on Jack Marks (6-6, 229) is more of a pass-catching threat, though he posted just one reception last season in limited time. Senior walk-on Nick Groeniger (6-5, 248) is a hybrid of Schepler and Marks. Limegrover hopes Marks and Groeniger continue to improve enough to allow him to make use of the Huskies' two-tight end packages.

For the last four years, Northern Illinois could rely on Eddie Adamski at center and Jason "J.O." Onyebuagu at left guard. But the first-team All-MAC linemen have graduated, leaving the Huskies with some question marks and some intriguing math to solve.

The Huskies entered spring ball with three returning starters in junior left tackle Trevor Olson (6-6, 306), junior right guard Joe Pawlak (6-5, 301) and junior right tackle Adam Kiel (6-5, 308). But when the Huskies finished spring ball, Limegrover told his group that just two linemen had earned starting jobs -- Olson and junior center Scott Wedige (6-4, 300).

"[Olson] is just so consistent," Limegrover said. "He's got such a great demeanor. He doesn't get too high, doesn't get too low. He's the son of a coach. He's been coached hard, so he doesn't cower. He doesn't shy away when you challenge him. And he really likes being the guy. He likes when I come to him and go, 'Hey, we're not going to help you on O'Brien Schofield from Wisconsin.'"

Wedige, meanwhile, learned well during his long apprenticeship to Adamski, who started 50 consecutive games.

"You love when you see over the course of time a career arc and you see it continuing to rise," Limegrover said. "He's bided his time and he really did a great job in the spring. When you lose a guy like Eddie, you're always nervous. But there wasn't a single time in our staff room watching practice [video] when we thought, 'Boy, he's not doing a very good job.' That's a testament to the kid."

Kiel started the first 11 games last year before breaking his foot. His recovery limited his live repetitions during the spring, which gave lightly used junior Keith Otis (6-4, 324) a chance to break into the lineup. Otis worked so hard he set up an even battle when they hit fall camp. "I spent all spring calling (Kiel) 'Wally Pipp,' " Limegrover said. "He didn't like that." But did Kiel know what that meant? "I told him to Google it," Limegrover said.

Pawlak started all 13 games last year at right guard, but Limegrover told him after last year's International Bowl loss that he needed to become more flexible. The former walk-on responded in the weight room and "really had a good spring."

Nonetheless, there are four guys battling for the two guard spots -- Pawlak, fifth-year senior Ed Jackson (6-3, 314), sophomore Logan Pegram (6-3, 312) and redshirt freshman Matt Krempel (6-4, 296).

Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys felt good about his defensive front as it was. Then an unexpected blessing walked back in the door in June. Second-team All-MAC defensive end Jake Coffman (6-5, 255), who decided at the end of the 2009 season to forego his final year of eligibility to kick-start a career with the government, reversed his decision and was welcomed back with open arms. Coffman, who'll be 26 this season, served two tours in Iraq before starting college, so he has the respect of his teammates for his service as much as his skills. "It's like a big-time Christmas present," Claeys said.

The return of Coffman, who racked up 13.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks while splitting 13 starts between defensive end and nose tackle, makes Claeys feel even better about continuing to rotate eight guys up front. Sophomores Sean Progar (6-3, 255) and Alan Baxter (6-0, 259) join Coffman as every-down ends while senior Darnell Bolding (6-2, 235), redshirt freshman Stephen O'Neal (6-4, 232) and redshirt freshman An-thony Wells (6-3, 245) can focus on using their speed to rush the passer.

Claeys believes Progar, who started seven games in 2009 and delivered six sacks, has developed into an all-league candidate, with Baxter close behind. "Both of them squat almost 500 pounds. They both bench almost 400 pounds," Claeys said. "Their power cleans are identical at over 300 pounds. The difference is Sean may be two inches taller. Those are two good bookends and we're adding Jake to that."

The tackle spots are strong with senior D.J. Pirkle (6-0, 283) returning at the 3-technique and redshirt senior Mike Krause (6-4, 266) back at nose guard after missing 2009 with a heart ailment. "Very instinctive player," Claeys said. "Smart. I think we missed him last year on the screen game and things like that because he's very good at recognizing screen blocks. Very intelligent player."

Redshirt sophomore Brian Lawson (6-3, 268), who stood at nose guard before breaking his arm at midseason, backs up Krause at nose guard while junior Ron Newcomb (6-3, 283) and sophomore Nabal Jefferson (5-11, 276) support Pirkle.

The Huskies expected to have two returning starters, but redshirt junior Pat Schiller (6-2, 231) tore up his knee during spring ball and underwent surgery in May. Schiller, who started all 13 games in the middle and posted 82 tackles last year before moving to weak-side linebacker in the spring, might return during the second half of the season, but Claeys says they won't push him. "If he does get back, it'll be like Jake [Coffman]," Claeys said. "It'll be a big Christmas present."

Schiller's injury leaves senior Alex Kube (6-0, 228) as NIU's only linebacker with more than token experience. Kube, a converted strong safety, contributed 60 tackles and six TFL in 12 starts last year. The coaches want Kube to hold on to his 228 pounds as he struggled to stay at 220 last fall.

Sophomore Devon Butler (5-11, 2224), who produced 15 tackles and two TFLs in limited time as a true freshman, takes over Schiller's spot in the middle. "The game is very natural to Devon," Claeys said. "The Mike linebacker sets the strengths, does a lot of checks for us and all that. Devon was more natural at that than Pat was. By taking that off of Pat before he got injured, he was playing faster in the spring than what he did last fall."

True sophomore Tyrone Clark (5-11, 214), who started the International Bowl for the injured Kube, takes Schiller's spot on the weak side. "He has improved a bunch," Claeys said. Junior Jordan Delegal (6-1, 209), who posted four sacks in relatively few snaps last year, is the top reserve on the outside while redshirt sophomore Victor Jacques (6-1, 225) backs up Butler in the middle. Claeys hopes a few of NIU's four incoming linebackers can provide depth immediately.

Blessed with three senior cornerbacks and an all-league candidate at strong safety, the Huskies are in good shape in the secondary. They could have entered the fall even better off, but returning free safety Mike Sobol (6-0, 203) tore the ACL in his left knee during spring ball. Because it's Sobol's last year of eligibility, he underwent surgery immediately and has been rehabbing as quickly as possible. He hopes to return early in the season.

Sobol's absence leaves junior Tracy Wilson (6-2, 203) as the key at safety. Wilson led the Huskies with 93 tackles last season, but Claeys expects him to take his play to another level this year. "He has the strength and the size, but he's still learning the game," Claeys said. "I told him in the next two years, he should be the best safety in the conference ... in my opinion."

Redshirt sophomore Tommy Davis (5-11, 201) leads junior college transfer Demetrius Stone (5-11, 196) in the race to replace Sobol at free safety.

Senior Patrick George (5-11, 196) and Chris Smith (5-10, 186) return as the starting cornerbacks -- George is more physical and Smith covers a little better -- while senior Kiaree Daniels (5-10, 196) is virtually as valuable. George picked off two passes and broke up five last year while Smith contributed 70 tackles and four breakups.

"I feel really good about our corners," Claeys said.

Redshirt sophomore Tommy Davis won third-team All-MAC honors as a punt returner, though he averaged just 8.0 yards on his 17 returns. Davis also handled the majority of the Huskies' kick returns.

His 24.1-yard average included an 86-yard touchdown return to open the Eastern Michigan game.

NIU ranked 96th nationally in net punting last year (33.7 yards), so improvement needs to happen there.

Second-team All-MAC kicker Mike Salerno graduated after converting 37-of-49 field goals and scoring 184 points in his two seasons.

Junior college transfer Alex Faust (6-5, 217) finished spring as the starter, but the redshirt sophomore faces a battle from incoming freshman Mathew Sims (5-11, 180). The Huskies spent a scholarship on Sims, so there are immediate expectations.

Junior Josh Wilber (5-11, 235) split the duties evenly with the departed Mike Salerno last year, though Salerno took over the job during the second half of the season. Wilber averaged 40.5 yards on his 28 punts in 2009. He faces a challenge from redshirt sophomore Ryan Neir (6-3, 212) in the fall. Incoming freshman Tyler Anderson (5-11, 186), a recruited walk-on, will get in the derby as well.

NIU hit the junior college ranks for the nation's leading rusher (Jasmin Hopkins) and most-prolific thrower (Casey Weston), but they're not the only skill players who could help immediately.

The Huskies have a pair of X-factors at receiver in redshirt freshman Jamison Wells (5-11, 185) and true freshman Akeem Daniels (5-7, 180). Wells joins the team after a year on the baseball team, while Daniels arrived a semester early to learn the system.

Kicker Mathew Sims could win a job from day one on the special teams. The Huskies recruited four linebackers, including Mike 'backer Cameron Stingily, and they need a couple of them to get ready early.