Northern Illinois University running back Garrett Wolfe recently took time to answer a few questions from SCS.com. Wolfe, the team's offensive MVP in 2004, is one of the top players in the MAC and is a returning junior in DeKalb. After earning honorable mention All-America accolades following last season, Wolfe begins the 2005 campaign as one of the nation's top three backs in terms of scoring and rushing yards. The Huskies, who went 8-3 a year ago, will open the 2005 season on September 3 in Ann Arbor against the Michigan Wolverines. (photo courtesy whiteography.com)
GARRETT WOLFE, NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY
SCS.com: You had an outstanding high school career at River Grove Holy Cross in Chicago, setting 11 school records before graduating in 2002. You ran for over 4,000 yards and scored 56 touchdowns as an underclassman on your way to earning numerous honors, both locally and in the state of Illinois. Coming out of high school, what other colleges did you consider, and why did you ultimately opt to attend Northern Illinois?
Wolfe: "University of Florida, Arizona, Arizona State, Illinois, and Purdue. I was a long shot to qualify academically to accept a Division I scholarship. Throughout the whole process, NIU was there and they made it clear that if I did not qualify, they were still going to stick with me."
SCS.com: As a sophomore in 2004, you saw your first live action since high school. You averaged over 150 yards per game on the ground and nearly 170 all-purpose yards per contest. You also scored nearly a dozen points each game. What was the key to your early success as a young player in a conference as competitive as the MAC, especially considering you were replacing Michael Turner, perhaps the greatest running back in NIU history?
Wolfe: "Even though it was my first game action, I had already been through two years of spring practice, and practicing against my teammates proved to be much tougher than playing against anyone last year."
SCS.com: Your outstanding season did not go unnoticed. Among other honors, you were named the team's 2004 offensive MVP and honorable mention All-America by both CNNSI.com and CollegeFootballNews.com. You were selected as MAC Player of the Week four times last year, but perhaps the honor that you are most proud of is the First Team All-MAC selection. That's because that squad was voted on by the league coaches you play against each and every week throughout the season. Talk about those honors and how it feels to be respected by the opponents you compete against each week, and also talk about the national exposure and what it means to you, your team, and your school.
Wolfe: "Being voted All-MAC was very important to me because of really everything you just stated about the other coaches. The All-America honors are very important for my university because I would like to think all of this exposure will help with recruiting. I think my teammates take more pride in it than I do myself."
SCS.com: Heading into the 2005 campaign, you are among the nation's top three returning players in terms of scoring, all-purpose yards, and rushing yards. Keeping those high marks won't be easy, so talk some about the goals you have for yourself this coming season and how you have worked over the last few months to get yourself prepared for the fall.
Wolfe: "The goals that I have set for myself do not pertain to stats. I feel that if I am in better shape mentally and physically, everything will take care of itself. Mentally I have become so much more intelligent within our offense, and I feel like that alone will help me to be much more effective."
SCS.com: You are in a unique situation in that you have a teammate who is also a very skilled running back. Senior A.J. Harris averaged about 75 yards per game on the ground himself last season and is the MAC's sixth-leading returning rusher for 2005. Talk about the relationship you and A.J. have and any tactics you two share, whether during practice or games, to make each other better.
Wolfe: "My relationship with A.J. Harris is a very good one. We both have the ultimate respect for each other, and we both understand that the situation that we have is a very unique one. I know that he does not approach practice or games like he is my backup because I do not think that he is. A.J. does not play as much as me; that is how I look at it. If he played as much as I do, he could do the same things that I have done. As far as things to make each other better, all we do is try to coach one another up before our coach beats us to it."
SCS.com: Last year you had the opportunity to visit places like Maryland, Iowa State, Central Florida, and more. This year's schedule has trips planned to Big Ten powers Michigan and Northwestern. Of the road trips you have made while on campus, which one is the most memorable, and which game away from home this fall are you most looking forward to?
Wolfe: "The most memorable road trip was last year going to Maryland. It was my first college game, and I knew I was going to play so I was very nervous. This might surprise everyone who reads this, but even though we are going to the Big House this year and a lot of my friends play for Northwestern, the road game I am looking forward to most is Toledo. I have never had the opportunity to play against them, and I cannot wait. Hands down, that is are most important game besides Miami of Ohio."
SCS.com: While playing on the road can be fun, there's nothing like taking the field in front of the home crowd. Huskie Stadium, which can now seat over 30,000 fans, has become one of the toughest places to play in the MAC in recent years. Talk about the support of the NIU faithful as well as one or two of your favorite Huskie Stadium memories.
Wolfe: "The fans at NIU take the cake. I love all of our fans and I owe them a MAC Championship...period. My two favorite memories are my first game ever at Huskie Stadium and the Bowling Green game."
SCS.com: After redshirting in 2002, you were forced to sit out the 2003 season due to "institutional academic guidelines." How disappointed were you to have your college career delayed another season, and did that provide a way for you to get refocused in the classroom and get your priorities in order?
Wolfe: "Actually me being declared ineligible was not a matter of me getting refocused in the classroom. My GPA was fine; I was short one credit hour. I was very disappointed about the situation, and I put myself in an even worse situation the next semester by allowing me GPA to slip well below a two point. It was not until I realized that I was the only person who could get myself out of this situation that I realized I would be back to the neighborhood if I did not take care of everything."
SCS.com: Coach Joe Novak has done wonders for the Northern Illinois football program. He has led the school to conference titles and beaten the likes of Wake Forest, Maryland, Alabama, and Iowa State in the last three years alone. Coach Novak has also been able to recruit and sign some of the top talent from that area in recent years. What makes Coach Novak so successful, both on the field and on the recruiting trail?
Wolfe: "I think what makes him successful is the success that we have had on the football field."
SCS.com: In recent years, the topic of paying college athletes has come up more and more. Some people say that since the players make so much money for their school, their conference, and the NCAA, they should be paid. Others disagree, saying that paying college players is not right because that is what professional sports is for. What is your opinion on this subject?
Wolfe: "I think that college athletes should be paid for the millions of dollars that they bring to their universities. College sports would not be the same without college athletes."
SCS.com: Many athletes have role models that guide their athletic and personal lives. Who is one person you look up to on the field?
Wolfe: "I would say Warrick Dunn on the field because of our comparable size and because I think that I run hard just as he does."
SCS.com would again like to thank Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Huskies the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.
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