Fifteen days from kickoff, Wildcats set for training camp scrimmage Saturday at Parkside
In February of 2009, Bob Heffner joined Pat Fitzgerald's staff to coach the Wildcats' superbacks (NU's hybrid position for its tight ends, h-backs and fullbacks), bringing with him nearly 30 years of collegiate coaching experience to Evanston.
Heffner's tutelage of NU's Drake Dunsmore over his first three years on staff represented a resounding success, culminating in Dunsmore being voted the inaugural winner of the Kwalick-Clark Big Ten Tight End of the Year Award in 2011. Dunsmore, who also was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection, became NU's career leader for receiving yards by a tight end and graduated with 1,567 yards on 143 catches.
Also a celebrated run-blocker, Dunsmore put his pass-catching abilities on display in a memorable performance at Indiana on Oct. 29. Dunsmore set an NU school record with four touchdown catches and finished with 112 yards receiving (16.0 yards per reception) in the game.
A year later, Heffner's guidance ensured a smooth transition to Dunsmore's replacement, which came in the form of true freshman Dan Vitale. Vitale arrived at Northwestern with the possibility of playing multiple positions but found a home in Heffner's position room and soon was making major contributions on the field for NU. He went on to start 10 games and finish fifth on the team in both receptions (28) and receiving yards (288). An ESPN.com All-Rookie Team selection, Vitale came up especially big for the 'Cats in wins at Michigan State (nine catches, 110 yards) and in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl (seven catches, 82 yards).
As a sophomore in 2013, Vitale finished third on Northwestern with 34 catches and three touchdowns and fourth with 382 receiving yards.
In his first season at Northwestern, Heffner's superbacks played a large role in Northwestern's passing offense, which topped the Big Ten and ranked 13th nationally. Dunsmore, then just a sophomore, ranked second in the Big Ten among tight ends and third on the team with 47 catches, including a memorable 66-yard catch-and-run touchdown in which he broke multiple tackles in the 2010 Outback Bowl.
The Wildcats' superbacks were led by Dunsmore for the second-straight season in 2010. Dunsmore was NU's second-leading receiver on the year with 40 catches for 381 yards and five touchdowns. Dunsmore earned consensus All-Big Ten honorable mention honors at the tight end position.
Heffner spent the last eight seasons (2001-08) at Lafayette College, serving as the Leopards' offensive line coach from 2001 through 2007, before assuming Lafayette's offensive coordinator position in 2008. In 2002, Heffner, was named the program's associate head coach. During those eight seasons, he mentored offensive lines that served as fronts for some of the Patriot League's most prolific offenses. In the past five years, Leopard linemen have been honored 13 times for all-league play.
During the 2008 season when he oversaw the Leopards' offense, Lafayette finished 7-4 overall, ranked second in Patriot League rushing and led the nation with fewest turnovers. In 2006, when Lafayette won its third straight Patriot League title and advanced to the Division I-AA playoffs, Heffner's offensive line blocked for tailback Jonathan Hurt, the conference's Offensive Player of the Year. Six times in his last eight seasons with Lafayette, the Leopards ranked either first or second in Patriot League rushing or passing. He won three-straight Patriot League titles and went to the FCS playoffs in all three of those seasons.
Heffner also had two earlier successful stints at Lafayette, which were sandwiched around four years in the professional ranks. In 1988 and '89, the Coshocton, Ohio, native coached the offensive line and helped the 1988 Leopards to the Patriot League title. He then worked with CFL's British Columbia Lions (1990-92) as their co-offensive coordinator, which featured Doug Flutie, the CFL's MVP in 1991 and Jim Mills, the two-time Most Valuable Offensive Lineman in 1990 and '91. Then Heffner spent one season with the Arena Football League's Tampa Bay Storm as their offensive coordinator and director of player personnel in 1993 before returning to Lafayette for his second coaching stint with the Leopards in the fall of '93. He was the Leopards' offensive coordinator/offensive line coach for three seasons, which included a Patriot League title in 1994.
In 1996, Heffner was hired by then-Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak and coached the Huskies' offensive line. In early 1997, when former NU assistant coach Ron Vanderlinden was tabbed the head coach at Maryland, Heffner joined the Terrapins' staff, coaching the Terps' tight ends and tackles for two seasons before being promoted to offensive coordinator for the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
In Heffner's first season directing Maryland's offensive unit, the Terrapins posted the 10th-highest scoring average in school history and its best in seven previous seasons. Maryland ranked first in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and 12th nationally in rushing yards per game (234.1), and tailback LaMont Jordan earned second-team All-America honors after finishing fifth in the country in rushing.
He graduated from Temple University in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in secondary education, and then served as a graduate assistant coach at his alma mater for the '79 season. That season, the Owls played in the Garden State Bowl against California. Heffner then began his full-time collegiate coaching career at Illinois State as the interior defensive line coach in 1981 before taking over as offensive line coach during a seven-year stay with the Redbirds.
As a student-athlete at Temple, Heffner played three years as an offensive guard and was a member of Owl teams that made Mirage Bowl appearances in 1977 and 1978.
Heffner, and his wife, Nancy, a native of Warren Glen, N.J., have three daughters, Katie, Molly and Shelby.