March 8, 2000
Running Back U
Northwestern holds the distinction of being the only school in the Big Ten during the last five seasons to have three different running backs rush for 1,000 yards. In 1995 and 1996, Darnell Autry rushed for 1,785 and 1,452 yards, respectively, while in 1997, Adrian Autry amassed 1,049 yards on the ground. This past season, Damien Anderson accumulated 1,128 rushing yards. In that same span, only one other Big Ten school has had four seasons with a player rushing for 1,000 yards -- Wisconsin's Ron Dayne did it each of the last four years.
For the fourth time in five years, a Wildcat linebacker led the conference in tackles per game. Sophomore Kevin Bentley, a second-team All-Big Ten selection, led the conference last year with a 13.5 tpg average. Pat Fitzgerald, twice the nation's defensive player of the year, led the Big Ten in 1995 with 13.0 tpg. In 1997 and 1998, first-team All-Big Ten pick Barry Gardner topped the league with 14.5 and 14.6 averages.
Bentley Fifth In The Nation
Unofficially, Kevin Bentley racked up the fifth most tackles in Division I-A in 1999. His 148 stops were behind Keith Adams of Clemson (176), Jeff Ulbrich of Hawaii (169), Brian Urlacher of New Mexico (154) and Donald McCall of Eastern Michigan (154).
All-Big Ten Honors
Five Wildcat players were accorded All-Big Ten honors in 1999. Junior defensive end Dwayne Missouri was a second-team selection in both the coaches and media polls. Sophomore eligible running back Damien Anderson and sophomore linebacker Kevin Bentley both earned second-team accolades from the media and honorable mention status from the league's coaches. Harold Blackmon, junior eligibility, was a consensus honorable mention pick at defensive back while senior Jay Tant was named honorable mention tight end by both groups.
Did you know that of the 44 players on Northwestern's two deep in 1999, an amazing 36 will return in 2000? More remarkable, 19 of the 24 true starters will suit up for the Wildcats next season. Starters gone include Jeff Dyra (DT), Mark Perry (OL) and Jay Tant (TE), all of whom graduated, Ian Miller (FB), who took a medical noncounter, and Darryl Hodge (DT) who left school due to personal reasons.
The 1999 season was the final time that the following 15 Wildcats would don the purple: wide receiver Aaron Burrell, tight end John Cerasani, defensive tackle Jeff Dyra, tight end Corbett Elsen, wide receiver Tyrone Gooch, offensive guard Brian Hemmerle, defensive tackle Darryl Hodge, punter Eron Kosmowski, fullback Ian Miller, wide receiver Phil Miller, offensive lineman Mark Perry, free safety Kyle Sanders, linebacker Chris Stiernagle, tight end Jay Tant and defensive end Gladston Taylor.
Back-to-Back In The 1990s
Northwestern was one of only three schools to win back-to-back Big Ten Championships in the 1990s. Michigan and Wisconsin were the other member institutions to do so. In addition, Northwestern, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin were the only teams to win Big Ten championships outright and only NU, Michigan and Penn State earned rings with perfect 8-0 slates.
Tough Schedule In 1999
In 1999, eight of the 11 teams that Northwestern faced went on to have winning records, and seven of those squads were invited to postseason bowl games. NU defeated TCU (Mobile Alabama Bowl), and narrowly lost to Purdue (Outback Bowl). Only South Carolina (9) and Notre Dame (8) faced more bowl teams than the `Cats.
Academic All-Big Ten
Nine student-athletes on the 1999 Wildcat football team earned Academic All-Big Ten honors. To be eligible for this selection, a player must have been a letterwinner in at least their second academic year and carry a GPA of 3.0 or better. Those football players were: Jeff Baer (mechanical engineering), Quentin Brown (psychology), Pete Chapman (undeclared), Corbett Elsen (independent engineering), Pete Konopka (civil engineering), Wayne Lucier (undeclared), Mark Perry (Psychology), Kyle Sanders (chemical engineering) and Billy Silva (undeclared).
More Postseason Awards
At the Wildcats' banquet, held at the Westin River North Hotel in downtown Chicago, the following players took home some nice hardware.
The Wildcats' Most Valuable Player, by vote of the coaches, was sophomore linebacker Kevin Bentley. He led the conference in tackles throughout the campaign and finished the 1999 season with 148, which placed him seventh on the school's single-season list. Bentley also had a pair of interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
The George Ballantine, Jr. Memorial Leadership Award, given to "the player who demonstrates the enthusiasm and leadership which exemplifies George's contributions to NU football," was awarded to senior tight end Jay Tant. He finished the season with 17 catches for 203 yards, placing third on the team in both categories.
The Thomas Airth Spirit Award, presented to "the football player whose spirit and enthusiasm has been an inspiration to teammates, coaches and fans throughout the season," was given to defensive end Dwayne Missouri. Missouri enjoyed a stellar season in the trenches, putting together a 13-game streak with at least one tackle for loss that dated back to 1998. He ended 1999 with 52 tackles and led the Wildcats with 20 TFLs, including five sacks.
The Carnig Minasian Citizenship Award, given to "the member of the football team who has been an outstanding citizen on campus, in practice, and on the field...in all aspects of campus life," was awarded to senior defensive back Kyle Sanders. One of just 15 players who departed following the 1999 season, Sanders finished the year with 47 tackles and had a fumble recovery against Wisconsin. Originally a walk-on who also played baseball at Northwestern, Sanders started four contests in 1999.
The Marcel Price Award, given to "the player who best exhibits the enthusiasm and dedication to the Wildcat program and is symbolic of Marcel's desire," was awarded to defensive back Harold Blackmon. With one season of eligibility left, Blackmon is already the school's all-time leader with 26 passes broken up. He had 17 in 1999, which was also a school record. He also intercepted two passes (one for a touchdown against Indiana) and finished the season with 48 tackles.
First-year head coach Randy Walker introduced a new award, The Wildcat Warrior. This award will be presented annually to that player who "displayed the work ethic and investment that is needed to achieve greatness as a football player." The inaugural winner was running back Damien Anderson, who surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in 1999 with 1,128 yards. With two years still remaining, he is already seventh on the all-time rushing list with 1,665 yards.
The Northwestern Gridiron Network (NGN) Newcomer honors went to true freshman center Austin King on offense and sophomore linebacker Billy Silva on defense. King started in the last nine games of the season. Silva, meanwhile, had 83 tackles in the middle linebacker spot, fourth-best on the team.
Fifth-year senior Jeff Dyra who missed half of the season with a broken foot, received the award as team captain.
At the Kelly Tires Blue-Gray Classic, held on Christmas Day in Montgomery, Ala., Northwestern head coach Randy Walker served as the defensive coordinator for the North team, and Jack Glowik -- who serves as Walker's defensive line coach at NU -- was also on the staff.
New Team PBU Record Set
During the 1999 season, Northwestern's defensive backs played a major role in shattering the team record for PBUs in a season. The Wildcats amassed 60 total PBUs, 16 more than the old record of 44 which was set in 1996. In addition, Harold Blackmon set the single and career marks for PBUs at 17 and 26, respectively.
Couldn't Catch A Break
Injuries plagued the Wildcat wide receivers, tight ends and fullbacks the entire 1999 season. The corps became so depleted that many times a walk-on or third or fourth string player lined up for NU.
At wide receiver, Sam Simmons (fractured clavicle) and Jon Schweighardt (fractured elbow) were both lost for the season in the Iowa game. Teddy Johnson, who had a stress fracture in his shin and missed the first two games, played with a viral infection in the Wisconsin game and saw action in only two quarters, then suffered a concussion in the second quarter at Michigan and subsequently missed the Michigan State game. Rob Johnson fractured his left wrist in the Minnesota contest and missed the next four games. Derrick Thompson fractured his rib in the Minnesota contest, but continued to play the remainder of the season.
At tight end, John Cerasani played with a chronic ankle sprain for six weeks, Corbett Elsen had a nerve root irritation and missed four games, and Jay Tant played with a hamstring strain all season and suffered a concussion versus Indiana.
At fullback, Ian Miller suffered a concussion in the TCU game and missed the next three games. At Michigan, Miller again suffered a concussion, and missed the remainder of the season.
Bentley Top Tackler In Big Ten
Sophomore linebacker Kevin Bentley was one of the nation's top tacklers in 1999. He registered a league-leading 148 total tackles, 91 of which were solo efforts. His 13.5 tpg average was also tops in the Big Ten. For his efforts, the media voted him to their second team, while the coaches thought he deserved honorable mention status.
Making tackles was not all that Bentley did. He intercepted a Drew Brees pass for a 40-yard touchdown, collected another INT versus Iowa (which eventually led to a TD) and forced a fumble from Ron Dayne which led to a field goal. Bentley had three PBUs, two sacks for 20 yards, 10 TFLs and two fumble recoveries. His best game of the season came against Indiana when he registered a career-high 25 stops, 21 of which were solo efforts.
Anderson Is NU's Newest 1,000 Club Member
Damien Anderson rushed for a career-high 1,128 yards in 1999 and, in doing so, became the fourth Wildcat running back in the last five years to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. Darnell Autry did it in 1995 and 1996, while Adrian Autry broke the barrier in 1997. In all, the redshirt sophomore became the seventh Wildcat to gain entrance into the elite club.
Anderson ranked fourth in the Big Ten and 25th in the country with a 102.5 yards per game average. In addition, he finished fifth in the conference and 44th nationally in all-purpose yards at 119.3 per game. The media tabbed Anderson second-team All-Big Ten, while the coaches chose him as an honorable mention running back.
In the Iowa win, Anderson set career highs for rushing yards (162) and rushing attempts (42). He ran for more than 100 yards in a game five times in 1999 (Miami/129, Purdue/150, Iowa/162, Wisconsin/102 and Illinois/123). Anderson also came close on two other occasions (TCU/98 and Indiana/91).
After gaining 537 yards in 1998, his career rushing mark of 1,665 yards already ranks seventh on NU's all-time list, while his 1,128 yards in 1999 ranks fifth best on the Wildcat all-time single season chart. If Anderson, who has two years of eligibility remaining, rushes for 1,000 yards in 2000, he would move into second on Northwestern's all-time rushing list. Darnell Autry holds down the top spot with 3,793 yards.
Also of note, only two players in Northwestern history had more yards after two seasons than Anderson. Darnell Autry had 2,341 yards and Byron Sanders accumulated 1,840.
Blackmon Rewrites PBU Record Book
Senior Harold Blackmon assaulted the PBU portion of the Northwestern record book in 1999. He had 17 PBUs to his credit in 1999 and, in the process, broke the single-season record of 13 set by Rodney Ray in 1994. Meanwhile, Blackmon's 26 career PBUs broke Ray's career mark of 23 as well. He finished tied for second in the conference in PBUs and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades from the media and coaches. Blackmon has one year of eligibility remaining.
Teammate Shegun Cummings-John is also had a banner year in the PBU department. He had 14 in 1999 and was sixth in the Big Ten. Cummings-John, who had just one PBU in 1998, has two years of eligibility remaining.
The Show-Me Defensive End
Defensive end Dwayne Missouri finished the 1999 season at Illinois with a career-high four TFLs, and upped his season-best total to 20. That mark is the second highest in school history, while his 29 career TFLs rank tied for fifth-best all-time with Mike Guendling (1980-83). If Missouri duplicates his 1999 TFL tally in 2000, he would finish second on NU's all-time TFL chart behind Casey Dailey, who racked up 53 from 1994-97.
Missouri, who has one year of eligibility remaining, was a second-team All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and the media in 1999.
Harris & Morton Go Over 100
Linebacker Napoleon Harris and free safety Rashad Morton also went over the century mark in tackles last season. "Napo" tallied 110 total tackles, while Morton registered 103. Harris was third in the Big Ten Conference in tackles per game with 11.0 and sixth in total tackles, while Morton finished tied for eighth in total tackles. Harris has two years of eligibility remaining, while Morton has one.
King Of The Freshman Class
Six true freshmen saw a lot of playing time during the 1999 season for the Wildcats. Of those six, Austin King garnered the most action and started at center for NU for the final nine games of the season.
In those nine starts, King garnered four championship performances (*) and one Offensive Big Playmaker of the Game (^) award from the Northwestern coaching staff:
The other five freshmen were: running back Louis Ayeni, who had 44 attempts for 160 yards and 17 kickoff returns for 295 yards (17.4 ypr), wide receiver Jon Schweighardt (two starts before being sidelined with an elbow injury against Iowa), who tallied 11 receptions for 134 yards overall and returned eight punts for 20 yards, and linebackers Vincent Cartaya, Pat Durr and Regis Eller, who all played mostly on special teams.
Second-Team Freshman All-American
Austin King, who as a freshman started in nine contests, snagged second-team All-American honors by Football News. King's best game came at Purdue when the `Cats nearly knocked off the No.19 Boilermakers. In that contest (his second start), King graded out at 86 percent, recorded seven pins and tallied 13 knockdowns. All were season bests.