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Spann named MAC Player of the Year

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

CLEVELAND, Ohio — For the fourth time in five years, a Northern Illinois University football player has won the Vern Smith Leadership Award as the top football player in the Mid-American Conference.

Senior running back Chad Spann, who went from preferred walk-on to scholarship player to two-time first team all-league selection, was chosen in a vote by the league’s 13 coaches. Each school nominates one player for the honor each year.

Spann, who is from Indianapolis, helped lead the Huskies to the MAC West title with a perfect 8-0 record. Northern is 10-2 overall and meets East winner Miami in Friday’s 6 p.m. league title game at Detroit’s Ford Field (ESPN2).

“Chad emerged about midway through last season and played with a torn labrum,” said NIU coach Jerry Kill. “He’s a touchdown maker and any time you do that, you are going to get recognition.”

As a junior, Spann tied the school’s single-season TD record by reaching the end zone 19 times. This year, he eclipsed it with 20 scores, tied for the lead in college football this season.

“Chad’s story is a great example for any kid out there looking to play college football who has someone telling them they can’t,” said Kill. “To (former NIU) Coach (Joe) Novak’s credit, I think by the time school started (Spann’s freshman year), he had a scholarship.”

Spann ranks seventh in the nation in scoring, averaging 10 points-per-game and 17th in the nation with a 103.2-yards-per-game rushing average.

“It’s definitely another tremendous honor,” said Spann, who was also named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. “When you look at the history of the award, you have Garrett Wolfe, Larry English, Dan LeFevour and going all the way back to Byron Leftwich, all those guys had great careers and are now playing in the NFL. It’s a great honor to be included in this group.”

Wolfe, who won it in 2006, was only the second NIU player to win the award, which dates to 1982. Tim Tyrrell, quarterback of Northern’s only MAC championship team in 1983, won the honor when it was called the Jefferson Award. It is presented each year by the Downtown Athletic Club of Toledo. The name was changed to honor former Toledo Athletic Director Vern Smith in 1987.

English, a native of Aurora now playing for the San Diego Chargers, won the award in 2007 on a team that went 2-10 and again in 2008. Downers Grove native Dan LeFevour, QB for Central Michigan, won it in 2009.

“It’s an award for the entire offense,” said the 5-foot-9, 198-pound Spann, “If I didn’t have a great offensive line or fullbacks Kyle Skarb and Conor Flahive blocking for me, I wouldn’t have done so well this season. It’s an award that shows the talents of all 11 guys out on the field.”

Temple led the way with eight first team selections but Northern had six and a team-high 13 players honored with All-MAC recognition on either the first, second or third teams.

Huskies joining Spann on the All-MAC first team are quarterback Chandler Harnish, center Scott Wedige and tackle Trevor Olson on offense and defensive end Sean Progar and cornerback Chris Smith on defense.

Kent State defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix was honored as the league’s Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year, Miami coach Mike Haywood, who engineered the biggest turnaround (1-11 to 8-4) in college football this season, won the Coach of the Year honor and Toledo return man Eric Page was named Special Teams Player of the Year.

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