The Northern Illinois senior fullback and Harrison High School graduate heard from Huskies coach Rod Carey, and it was a very rewarding conversation.
Carey offered Connors, who arrived at Northern Illinois as a preferred walk-on prior to the 2010 season, a scholarship for his final two semesters at the university.
“I was home after the bowl game, he called me and he goes, ‘You’ve done what we’ve asked you to do, all the right things, and we’d like to basically reward you for your hard work and put you on scholarship,’” Connors said. “It was a blessing. I couldn’t believe it. I was shaking. My mom was at work. I called her, she rushed home and gave me a big hug. It was pretty surreal.”
Connors didn’t have any offers from Football Bowl Subdivision schools coming out of high school. He had Football Championship Subdivision interest, but no full-ride scholarship offers.
Former Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill, now at Minnesota, liked what he saw from Connors as a pulling guard and figured he could transition to fullback. Connors took the chance, and moved more than 750 miles north to Illinois.
“I was always told I was too slow, couldn’t make it,” Connors said. “Since I’ve been here, I proved that I can. That was really the driving force to me getting here, was just the doubters, I guess you could say.”
Connors graduated last December, and the All-Mid-American Conference pick last season is now working on his master’s in political science. He will finish classes this upcoming semester and hopes to get into federal law enforcement, with the goal of working for an agency such as the DEA or ATF.
Connors will be able to write his thesis this spring and earn his master’s degree.
On the field, he’s listed as the backup fullback behind starter Rob Sterling. Connors also saw time on the kickoff return and special teams units last year, and he worked with the punt team during the Huskies’ fall camp.
Whichever position it is, Connors will likely see playing time of some sort tonight when Northern Illinois opens the season with Presbyterian.
“He is a true fullback. He’s an in-the-backfield fullback guy. He’s a guy who is physical at the point of attack. He’s physical at the point of attack and he’s a threat game in the pass game, the play-action game,” Northern Illinois tight ends/fullbacks coach Craig Harmon said. “He’s a true fullback, the old-school fullback. He’s going to run in there and knock the crap out of somebody.”