In just over five months, on September 12th, the Northern Illinois Huskies football team is scheduled to travel to Maryland to take on the Maryland Terrapins. It will be the schools first meeting in 16 years, when the teams played in consecutive years in 2003 and 2004.
As many fans remember, the 2003 game remains one of the greatest games in NIU history. The Huskies took down the 14th-ranked Terps 20-13 in overtime. It was the game that started my obsession with the Huskies and certified Randee Drew as one of my favorite Huskies of all-time.
Drew, a four-year starter in DeKalb, walked on in 2000 and quickly became one of the greatest defensive backs NIU has ever seen. In his time as a Huskie, he totaled 174 tackles, 14 interceptions, 38 pass breakups, and forced three fumbles.
His 38 pass breakups is still an NIU record while his 14 picks ranks fourth best all-time. Back in 2015, he was named as one of the 50 Greatest Players by the school.
I reached out to Randee and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Maryland game, the 2003 team, and NIU football in general.
Hustle Belt: It’s been nearly 17 years since the Huskies took down #14 Maryland. And you were a huge part of that win. You forced a fumble late in the 1st quarter that led to the Huskies’ first points and then, in overtime, you intercepted Scott McBrien’s pass - off of a crazy deflection - that gave NIU the 20-13 win. It was one of the Huskies biggest victories and set the course for that amazing season. How often do you relive that game-winning moment?
Randee Drew: That game winning interception was like the stuff you think about when you’re by yourself. I loved it! I think of it often how lucky and fortunate I was to be on that team and to have my brothers.
HB: What else do you remember about that game, all these years later?
RD: I remember how emotional we were before the game. We lost another team mate that summer. [NIU had lost another player the season before as well]. We worked so hard and dedicated it to him. I remember the first play I was so jacked up and hyped that I miss my first tackle but after that I was good. I’ll never forget that first play - we were in a cover 3 and I was playing off man and missed the tackle.
HB: That 2003 team was one of the best in Huskie history, starting 7-0, winning games at #19 Alabama and Iowa State, and climbing to #12 in the NCAA at one point. What other memories stand out from your senior season?
RD: I loved how close we were. We gained confidence every week and nobody knows how much adversity we fought. We lost key players like Nick Duffy and others and we just had the next man up mentality. We honestly enjoyed each other. I remember a reporter asked me how I felt about going to Alabama and I said “ they put their pants on just like we do” that was our mentality. We were fearless.
HB: You were part of an amazing secondary that gave up just 197.6 passing YPG and had 23 INT. What was it like playing with the likes of Rob Lee, Lionel Hickenbottom, Akil Grant, and Ray Smith?
RD: It was amazing because we all grew up together. Me and Akil played as true freshman. Lionel Prop 48’d his first year and Rob and I played against each other in high school, so that was really special to me. Ray was the young protege and was a really smart player. I have to give homage to Vince Thompson; he really showed me how to play and helped me grow up. And Coach Schaffer really just believing in me and allowing me to lead.
HB: You had an amazing career and still hold the record for pass breakups (38) and are tied four fourth in career interceptions (14). Looking back at your career, what is your favorite moment at NIU?
RD: I honestly loved everything at NIU, from being a walk-on freshman to a captain my senior year is something I couldn’t imagine and would do it no other way. My favorite moment would be when [Coach] Novak gave me my scholarship and called my grandma! I remember Coach Schaffer taking time for me and believing in me. Another moment is being named one of the five team captains my senior year. All the accolades and records were just a product of good coaching, great team mates, and hard work.
HB: How close are you with the current program and do you still pay close attention to the team?
RD: I follow NIU and now that Thomas [Hammock] is the head man I’m super tuned in and connected. I also have two players from the high school I coach at down there and another kid I coach coming in next year. I love the direction and will always be a Huskie.
HB: What did you think about your former teammate Thomas Hammock’s first year at the helm? And what are your thoughts on NIU’s future?
RD: I love the direction Thomas is taking the program. He is a great coach but a better human. He has principles and knows what he wants his program to look like; and NIU is in good hands. People forget how great of a player he was before his injury. I’m so excited and I loved the hire. I feel way more connected to the program now.
HB: Finally, this is something I always like to ask Huskie players. There’s a debate around here about whether the Toledo Rockets and NIU are actually rivals. Did you consider them a rival at the time? And, if so, should they create a trophy for the game?
RD: Personally I feel they are a rival because I never beat them. We won a ton of games but they always eluded us and had amazing players. It was good competition and I think they have a quality program so, personally, yes. But I also believe that NIU currently is a bigger program and the success is so good that maybe we don’t need to make them a rival. But it’s always good competition so, sure make a trophy!
Thank you again to Randee for taking the time to sit down with me!
If you want to relive that amazing victory over the Terrapins (like I have done multiple times now), you can find the full game below. Or if you just want to watch Drew’s biggest highlights, you can find them at 43:30 and 3:30:40.