The top 10 Northern Illinois football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. CB Shawun Lurry, Jr.
After a nice freshman year as a good backup in the mix, Lurry was special in his sophomore season coming up with a nation-leading nine interceptions with 15 broken up passes, picking off two passes against Ohio State and coming up with at least one in six straight games and in seven of the first eight. While the Florida native isn’t all that big at 5-9 and 178 pounds, he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty and provide a hit of two with 43 tackles, 35 of them solo. He’s quick, aggressive, and he has a nose for the ball. Now he has to get used to being avoided.
2. RB Joel Bouagnon, Sr.
A big 6-2, 226-pound workhorse and pounder, he turned into the main man for the offense coming up with a team-high 1,286 yards and 18 touchdowns with most of the work being done over the first ten games. He tore off 100 yards or more in six of the games during that stretch, but he was held in check late running for 110 yards and no touchdowns in the final three games – all losses. With his size he can hit, block, and run with authority, but he can’t wear down. He can be the main man for the attack, but he handled the ball 296 times – the more tread on the tires late, the better.
3. WR Kenny Golladay, Sr.
The team’s leading receiver, Golladay caught 73 passes for 1,129 yards and ten touchdowns, roaring in the first two games with 213 yards against UNLV and 144 against Murray State. He disappeared at times, but when he was on, he was one of the MAC’s top big-play performers averaging 15.47 yards per try. At 6-4 and 200 pounds, he has the size, and he has the deep speed, so as long as the quarterback play is settled he’ll come up with an all-star season.
4. OT Levon Myers, Sr.
One of the team’s mainstay blockers, the star on the left side has 6-5, 309-pound size and the potential to be an anchor now that he knows what he’s doing. He’s a terrific run blocker who can get on the move and is solid in pass protection, earning Second Team All-MAC honors. It took a few years to get into the mix, but now he’s a rock to work around.
5. QB Drew Hare, Sr.
He led the way to a MAC championship as a sophomore, running for 900 yards and eight touchdowns while throwing for 2,322 yards and 18 scores with just two picks. The pressure was on last season, and he started out great hitting 64% of his throws – he was far more accurate – or 1,962 yards and 14 touchdowns with four picks, while running for 252 yards and a score in nine games. Everything was going along fine, and then he tore his Achilles heel and was out for the year. He’s still trying to get back to 100%, but when he’s right, the 6-1, 218-pound veteran is one of the MAC’s best all-around offensive weapons and one of the smartest and most talented leaders.
6. PK Christian Hagan, Jr.
The First Team All-MAC performer was ultra-reliable connecting on 14-of-18 field goals with two of the misses getting blocked. He cranked up a 52-yard shot in the Toledo game, and connected on seven of his last eight kicks before not getting an attempt in the final three games. He has a nice leg, but not a cannon making four of six attempts from beyond 40 yards. He’s a difference-maker.
7. LB Sean Folliard, Sr.
One of the team’s better playmakers into the backfield and all-around defenders on the outside, the 6-2, 231-pounder finished fourth on the team with 84 tackles with a sack and 8.5 tackles for loss. He’s a tweener at outside linebacker, but he proved he could be a key run-stopper with ten tackles against Miami University and ten in back-to-back weeks against Ohio and Bowling Green. While he could move to the middle, he’ll be better on the outside.
8. WR/KR Aregeros Turner, Sr.
The 5-11, 178-pound speedster did a nice job as a receiver, catching 39 passes for 343 yards and a touchdown, but he did a little of everything right with 152 rushing yards and a score on 24 carries. Where he made his most noise was on kickoff returns, averaging over 26 yards per try returning 45 kicks with scores against Boston College and as the lone bright spot against Boise State. Can he do even more as a receiver after averaging just under nine yards per try? He has the talent to do it.
9. S Brandon Mayes, Jr.
The team’s third-leading tackler, Mayes picked off three passes at strong safety but mostly held up against the run making 87 stops. Extremely steady, he might not have been dynamic but he came up with five tackles or more in 12 of the 14 games, topping out with ten stops against Western Michigan. While he’s not huge at 5-11, 193 pounds, he can provide a little bit of pop.
10. LB Renard Cheren, Soph.
The 6-0, 224-pound Florida native took over an outside spot and turned into one of the better all-around defenders. He has decent size and can move a bit, coming up with 1.5 sacks with 5.5 tackles along with his 63 stops. Very active and very good at getting around the ball in a hurry, he came up with 23 tackles in his first three games and was terrific late.