As we continue the countdown to the best player in the MAC, the fourth-best player comes from the defensive powerhouse that is NIU.
Yes, it’s weird to say, but for the past two seasons it has been the Northern Illinois Huskies defense, not offense, that has terrorized the MAC. Over that time, no unit has had more depth and skill than that of the Huskie linebackers. And Kyle Pugh is one of the best.
Pugh, now entering his senior season, grew up just 80 miles east of NIU in Chicago Heights, Illinois. In his final two seasons from Bloom Township High School, Pugh slaughtered this foes, en route to a combined 217 tackles.
After redshirting in 2015, he saw limited time in 2016, mostly as a back-up middle linebacker and on special teams, where he was unable to record any stats.
But that all changed in 2017 when he tore through the non-conference schedule before an injury sidelined him for the final nine games of the season. Despite playing just one third of the season, Pugh still managed to finish as the Huskies’ tenth leading tackler! He amassed 35 tackles, two QB Hurries, one TFL, and an interception in the four games he appeared, which included two amazing performances against P5 teams.
Against the Boston College Eagles he recorded a career-high 17 stops and snagged his only interception (so far). Then, when the Huskies took on the Nebraska Cornhuskers two weeks later, he picked up 11 more tackles and had a pass break up.
When Pugh finally returned to start the 2018 season, Huskie fans couldn’t wait. And he didn’t disappoint.
Last year, he played in 13 of the 14 games (missing the FSU game) and, despite playing through an injury for most of the year, was one of just two NIU players to record triple-digit stops. Pugh tallied 106 tackles, five TFL, four QB Hurries, two pass break ups, two fumble recoveries, and had 1.5 sacks which led to him being named a second team All-MAC linebacker.
While he wasn’t much of a blitzer (he left that to Sutton Smith and Josh Corcoran), he roamed the middle of the field and always seemed to be wherever the ball was. In seven games last year Pugh had 9 or more tackles and he had *AT LEAST* six stops in every game he appeared!
If he stays healthy in 2019, Pugh will most likely continue his dominance and be one of the Huskies’ (and MAC’s) leading tacklers. He has an amazing ability to locate and bring down any ball carrier...once he locks in on you, there is no escape.