Or like senior tailback Michael (the Burner) Turner, who—notice a trend here—was not offered a scholarship to any other school. " Illinois called me...once," says the North Chicago native. Last year Turner rushed for 1,915 yards, setting up a Heisman Trophy campaign this season that has been stunted by defenses, like Ohio's, that stack nine men in the box to stop him and force the Huskies to throw, which they did last Saturday, 46 times. "I've had` a chip on my shoulder for five years," says Turner.
Or like offensive tackle Shea Fitzgerald of Winnetka, who arrived in DeKalb in the fall of 2001 at a gangly 6'8", 245 pounds and by last spring had bulked up to 300. He seemed destined to become the fourth of Novak's players to make the NFL. Then on June 29, 15 days shy of his 20th birthday, Fitzgerald was at a party in Chicago, standing on a crowded porch when it collapsed; he and 12 others were killed. This season the Huskies are remembering Fitzgerald in many ways. His old locker at Huskie Stadium is enclosed in Plexiglas. His teammates wear a patch on their jerseys bearing his number, 76. Each week they present a sledgehammer with SHEA written on the handle to the player delivering the game's best hit. And before every game they quietly say to each other, "This is for Shea."
The Huskies still have tough games remaining against conference rivals Bowling Green and Toledo. If they run the table, they'll probably lose a loud argument that they belong in a BCS bowl, satisfying themselves with the MAC's guaranteed berth in the GMAC or Motor City bowl. Still, the program faces becoming just a little less quaint. Novak has one year left on a four-year contract. Northern is willing to more than double his salary to keep him, but, says Groth, "We can't compete if one of the major conferences offers him a huge compensation package." (Says Novak, "I'd be a fool to say I wouldn't listen" to offers.) Also, blueprints have been drawn up and fund-raising begun for an office, locker room and weight training complex that will cost a relatively modest $7 million. "We will not participate in an arms race," says Peters. "If everybody has a trapeze in their buildings, we're not going to put a trapeze in ours."
For now there is the joy that comes with dreaming big. Late Saturday night the Huskies players tumbled off the field into the tiny dressing room and called for Fleck to lead them in raucously singing the school's fight song, as he has done after every game since his freshman year. Soon they were screaming, "Huskies, come on you Huskies/And make a score or two...."
They yelled and sang deliriously and banged their battered hands on wooden cubicle walls and metal heating ducts. A small power making big noise.