Here are some crucial Northern Illinois football players to watch as the Huskies face Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl on Wednesday in San Diego:
Aidan Conlon and Andrew Ness, offensive linemen
Conlon, a guard, and Ness, the center, will extend their FBS record to 56 consecutive starts — every game for four years, including a conference championship game and bowl game each season. Both were named to the All-MAC first team.
“We’ve built a great bond,” Conlon said. “He’s one of my best friends here. We’ve been through so much, coming in and starting from day one, learning the whole system together. It’s been a fun time.”
The two were starters as freshmen on the 2012 Northern Illinois team that played in the Orange Bowl.
“They probably played too young. We didn’t have anybody else,” said Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey, the former offensive line coach. “That’s sometimes how it goes in college football. ... As they’ve matured, they’ve learned how to take care of their bodies and they really have learned how to practice at a high level.”
Boomer Mays, linebacker
The team MVP joined the program as a long snapper.
“He just weaseled his way into linebacker drills,” Carey said.
Mays has recorded 298 career tackles with 24.5 tackles for loss — not only becoming a linebacker, but developing into an excellent one. He leads the team with 108 tackles this year and was named All-MAC.
“It’s those kids that make you successful,” Carey said.
Joel Bouagnon, tailback
The All-MAC first-teamer is a power back in a big frame — 6-foot-2, 226 pounds. He ranked fifth in the nation during the regular season with 18 rushing touchdowns. He also gained 1,269 yards at 4.6 yards per carry.