College Football: Kukuc leaving North Central with record stats
BY PAUL JOHNSON For Sun-Times Media January 3, 2013 7:14PM
Running back Nick Kukuc leaves North Central football this season at the top of four career lists, including touchdowns and yards per carry. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 5, 2013 6:14AM
After Nick Kukuc finished up his football career at Naperville Central, he turned his sights to playing in college.
His decision wound up coming down to Carthage and his hometown North Central College.
Four years, four CCIW championships and numerous career and season records later, Kukuc knows that he made the right decision staying home.
“I wanted my family to be able to see me play,” Kukuc said. “There’s something about being the hometown player. It wasn’t a hard decision. It’s nice after the game having people to talk to on the field. It brings a bigger sense of family to the team. We preach that all the time at North Central. I got a lot of support from the community because I’m from Naperville.”
It’s easy to imagine a day when Kukuc is welcomed back to campus as a Hall of Fame member when you look back at the impact he had on North Central’s record books. He leaves at the top of four career lists, points scored (288, though kicker Nick Dace is only four points behind and has another season left with the team), all-purpose yards (4,832) total touchdowns (48) and yards per carry (7.69, nearly two yards ahead of anybody else in program history).
He is second all-time in rushing yards (3,730) and rushing touchdowns (44). He holds single-season records in rushing yards (1,451, breaking his own record of 1,206), rushing touchdowns (17), yards per carry (8.61, set in 2011), points scored (108) and all-purpose yards (1,670).
“It was amazing to see him change from a freshman to what he became,” North Central coach John Thorne said. “You stop and think about all the games we took him out.”
Indeed, he only ranks fourth in program history in rushing attempts with 485, thanks to the amount of blowout wins he was pulled out of and how many short-yardage carries his former high school rival, Naperville North graduate Jordan Tassio, handled. His 7.69 yards per carry would have easily set a Division III record, but 500 career carries are required for that honor, and he fell just short. The record is held by Plymouth State’s Joe Dudek (7.10 yards per carry from 1982-85).
“It’s so sad, he was that close to his 500th carry and we didn’t get to play one more game,” Thorne said. “He could have not gained a yard on all 15 carries and he still would have that record. I wish we could have gotten that for him.”
The partnership with Tassio worked out better than anybody could have expected. When Tassio arrived three years ago, Kukuc was understandably skeptical. Tassio led Naperville North to a state title in high school while Kukuc was playing for the Redhawks across town.
“We always talked, but I didn’t know how to talk to this guy when he got here,” Kukuc said. “I thought he was coming to take my job. All of a sudden, the Class 8A player of the year shows up. We really grew. We became close.”
Tassio ran for 2,217 yards and 33 touchdowns in his three years, giving the Cardinals one of the most potent rushing tandems in the nation. More importantly, the former rivals are now close friends and were roommates on the road.
“The thing about us was we were happier seeing one another score,” Kukuc said. “When one of us was hurt, we had a mental connection where we understood it. If we were on the two-yard line and I felt 80 percent and I knew he was 100 percent, we’d switch. We sacrificed ourselves for the good of the team. I was more of a selfish player before I met Jordan. He taught me how to be humble. He sold out for the team. That’s all you can ever ask for.”
Kukuc said he would like to continue playing if it’s in the cards. He’s played in a pair of postseason all-star games this winter. But he also wants to get into coaching, and since the physical education and health major still has some classes to finish up next fall, he plans on chipping in on North Central’s staff to get started next season.
“If I can’t play the sport, I want to be around it,” Kukuc said. “I want to help athletes get on the right track. I’d love to coach in college, but high school is where I’ve always wanted to be. I want to be able to affect people’s lives. If you have dreams, you can reach them. You just have to work hard.”