In football, speed kills. Last year, Da'Ron Brown proved lethal. The Northern Illinois Huskies junior led the team in receiving yards (752), touchdowns (9), and average yards per catch (16.3)*.
Those numbers earned Brown second team ALL-MAC honors. He'll look to improve on those numbers in 2014 and has already been named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list this preseason. The Biletnikoff Award recognizes the nations top receiver.
The former Morgan Park quarterback and track star has been able to convert his athleticism and sprinting ability into the Huskies' deep threat at wide receiver. Brown's 10.94 second 100m speed allowed him to get behind the defense on scores of 25 yards or greater five times last season. A couple of those long td's sealed two of the biggest victories of 2013 for NIU.
If a team from the MAC wants to get over that Mid-Major stigma, it has to eventually beat a decent team from a BCS conference. Coming close just isn't enough.
During NIU's breakout season of 2012, the Huskies opened the season with a 1 point loss to the Big Ten's Iowa Hawkeyes. At that time, this was something of a moral victory. It turned out to be the Huskies' only regular season loss. It was also their only regular season BCS opponent.
In 2013, NIU opened the season playing the Hawkeyes again. This time, they made sure to get over that hump. Trailing the Hawkeyes 20-27 with just over 5 minutes remaining in the game, Brown got behind the Iowa secondary as Jordan Lynch hit him in stride and scored from 33 yards out. That tied the game. NIU later kicked the winning field goal in the closing minute to seal it. These "Boneyard" victories are precious for the program and Brown's late score was a crucial moment.
Brown also came to the Huskies' aid late in the season during a crucial inter-division battle with Ball State. Both teams entered the contest undefeated in conference play. Ball State(6-0) played the Huskies(5-0) even for three and half quarters in Dekalb. Brown, after having already caught a 58 yard touchdown pass from Lynch in the closing minutes of the first half, broke loose from 36 yards out with five minutes remaining in a tied game. Again Lynch hit him in stride for the go ahead score. NIU piled it on from there and finished the regular season undefeated.
NIU fans are expecting a slightly different look from their offense this year with the departure of Jordan Lynch. Depending on who wins the quarterback position, passing might increase. If that's the case you can expect Brown to have another big season of big plays. But whomever it is throwing the ball for the Huskies, if the team needs someone to deliver, the quarterback should be asking, "What can Brown do for you?"
*Ranking based on a minimum of 20 receptions