DeKALB, Ill. - After leading the Northern Illinois University Huskies to a 12-0 record and No. 14 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Ranking, NIU senior quarterback Jordan Lynch (Chicago, Ill./Mt. Carmel HS) and first-year head coach Rod Carey were honored Wednesday as the MAC released its 2013 football postseason awards.
League coaches honored Lynch with the Vern Smith Leadership Award, presented to the MAC's top player, for the second consecutive year and the Huskie quarterback also was named the conference's Offensive Player of the Year for the second time. Carey became just the third NIU coach to be named MAC Coach of the Year, joining his former college coach, Bill Mallory (1983) and Huskie legend Joe Novak (2002) with that distinction.
NIU had a league-high six players named to the Mid-American Conference first team as offensive tackle Tyler Loos (Sterling, Ill./Sterling HS) and receiver Tommylee Lewis (Riviera Beach, Fla./W.T. Dwyer HS) joined Lynch on the first team offense. Defensively, safety Jimmie Ward (Mobile, Ala./Davidson HS), linebacker Jamaal Bass (Miramar, Fla./Miramar HS) and defensive tackle Ken Bishop (Lauderhill, Fla./Piper HS/Ellsworth CC) were named to the MAC first team.
Two Huskies each were named to the second and third team All-MAC squads. Offensive guard Jared Volk (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead HS) and wide receiver Da'Ron Brown (Chicago, Ill./Morgan Park HS) both earned second team honors while defensive end Joe Windsor (Kearney, Mo./Kearney HS) and safety Dechane Durante (Charlotte, N.C./Vance HS) were selected to the All-MAC Third Team.
"I'm really proud of our MAC first, second and third team guys," Carey said. "It's a great honor but I know all of these players would say that they can't do what they've been doing without the rest of their teammates. It's a team sport, and they know they wouldn't be anywhere without their team."
Carey said he was honored to be on the same list as Mallory, who coached at NIU from 1980-83 and led the 1983 Huskies to the MAC title before moving on to Indiana, where he was Carey's collegiate coach, and Joe Novak, the 2002 MAC Coach of the Year who laid the foundation for the Huskie program of today.
"I think Bill and Joe would say the same thing, but I'm just a product of having real good people around me," Carey said. "I can't give enough credit to my staff and the work that they've done this year. Obviously getting the players ready to play and then it's about the players and the way they've played. It's really a team award and I'm certainly looking forward to sharing it with our team and staff."
Lynch, who was named MAC West Offensive Player of the Week a record eight times this year while compiling 4,212 yards of total offense on 1,755 rushing and 2,457 passing yards, is the first Huskie to win back-to-back Vern Smith Leadership Awards since defensive end Larry English won the award in 2007 and 2008. NIU players now have won the Vern Smith Award seven times in the last eight seasons beginning with tailback Garrett Wolfe in 2006. Between the back-to-back league MVP trophies picked up by English and Lynch, tailback Chad Spann (2010) and quarterback Chandler Harnish (2011) won the award as seniors.
Lynch is an offensive force both rushing and passing who has put together 12 outstanding performances marked by "firsts" he has posted as a runner and a passer. Lynch has twice set the NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 316 and 321-yard outings versus Central and Western Michigan, respectively. He is just the fifth FBS player in history to score 20 rushing touchdowns and throw 20 touchdown passes in a season and is poised to break the NIU single season record for touchdowns scored.
"I don't know what else I can say about Jordan, he has had a great year," Carey said. "This isn't a career award, it's an award based on this year and he's earned it. The fact NIU has had seven players honored in the last eight years speaks to the tradition being built here and the program in place."
Loos, a second-team All-MAC choice a year ago, was the Huskies' left tackle for the first nine games of the season before suffering a season-ending leg injury at UMass on Nov. 2. He and Volk, who earned his first All-MAC honor, formed a wall on NIU's left side that has helped the Huskie offense rank fourth in the country in total yards and fourth in rushing. The Huskies are averaging a school-record 542.3 yards per game and have broken the school record for rushing yards. NIU ranks second in the nation in fewest sacks allowed.
Juniors Lewis and Brown are multidimensional threats who have been Lynch's top targets throughout the season. Lewis ranks 12th in the country in catches per game with 74 in 10 games, and ranks third on the Huskie team in rushing yards with 321. Brown has a team-best nine touchdown catches and his 689 receiving yards (on 42 catches) lead NIU.
"For Tyler to make first team despite his injury is a great accomplishment and Jared's recognition is well-deserved because he works his tail off and he has done what he's supposed to do in his college career," Carey said. "He came in, redshirted, played a little, got his first start as a sophomore and now has developed into an all conference player.
"I couldn't be more pleased for Da'Ron and Tommylee. They've picked up for [2012 seniors] Martel [Moore] and Perez [Ashford] and those were big shoes to fill, and they've done it really well. I look forward to seeing more from them in the future."
Ward, one of the top defensive backs in the country with six interceptions, eight pass break-ups and a team-leading 77 tackles in 2013, earned first team All-MAC honors for the second consecutive season and his third all-league selection overall. Bishop, who ranks fourth on the Huskie team in tackles with 59 from his defensive tackle spot and has been a force in the middle for NIU all season, is a first-time honoree as is Bass, NIU's second-leading tackler with 75 stops on the season.
"All three of them are very deserving," Carey said. "Defense is kind of like baseball, you want to be strong up the middle. We've got Ken, Jamal and Jimmie who line up (mostly) in the middle so I think that goes to show where our strength is. I'm really proud of all three of them and how they've worked.
Durante, one of five juniors honored, and Windsor both were named to their first All-MAC teams with the third team recognition. Durante has 49 tackles, three interceptions, five pass break-ups and two forced fumbles this season, while Windsor has compiled 3.5 quarterback sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss and 32 tackles from his defensive end spot.
"I'm so pleased with how Joe has progressed and become a leader," Carey said. "I always say if you're going to be a good team, your seniors have to play like seniors and he's a perfect example. Dechane is right up there with the best in this league at his position and I don't know that there are two better safeties out there than him and Jimmie. I'm certainly pleased for him and looking forward to his leadership next year as a senior."
The NIU All-MAC list for 2013 includes five seniors and five juniors. The 10 players honored are the most since 13 Huskies were named to the All-MAC in 2010.
No. 14 (BCS) NIU takes on MAC East Champion Bowling Green (9-3) Friday at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on ESPN2 in the Marathon MAC Championship Game at Detroit's Ford Field.