MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University seniors Eddie Knoblock and John Privitelli both could have collected their diplomas and departed Marquette after completing injury-plagued campaigns on the gridiron in 2011.
Instead, Knoblock and Privitelli decided to put the real world on hold, claiming medical redshirts.
It's a decision that has left both Wildcats grateful for another year of football, even if it's with a program that went through a coaching shakeup this offseason following a disappointing 4-7 run.
Northern Michigan University senior running back John Privitelli runs after making a catch during drills at the Superior Dome on Monday, the sixth day of NMU spring football practices. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
"It definitely makes you appreciate, makes you realize and look at everything and put everything into perspective," Privitelli said.
After missing nearly all of last season with leg injuries, both Privitelli and Knoblock are cleared and 100 percent ready for action this spring.
Privitelli, entering his third season at running back with NMU after transferring in from Santa Ana Junior College in 2010, went down after only three games in 2011 with a broken ankle at home against Northwood.
After leading the team in rushing as a junior with 693 yards, Privitelli mustered only 87 yards on 20 carries as a senior last year. He scored two touchdowns at running back and returned the opening punt of the season 67 yards for a score.
Knoblock, who was a first-team All-GLIAC linebacker as a junior, was lost on the road a week earlier than Privitelli at Findlay with a knee injury. He finished with only 15 tackles - six solo - in 2011 after leading NMU with 83 in 2010, 44 of which were solos.
Knoblock, who was also the team MVP in 2010, called first-year head coach Chris Ostrowsky "a present for the team" in November when the offensive coordinator received the promotion.
Now that the spring season is underway, Ostrowsky is considering players like Knoblock a gift as the NMU coach begins his first stint as head of a college program.
"His presence as a player is going to be extraordinary when he's actually back to playing," Ostrowsky said. "For me as a head coach, it means comfort to know that we arguably have the best middle linebacker in the league back with us next year."
While he's 100 percent physically, Knoblock is unable to practice with the team this spring due to NCAA eligibility rules that limit a student-athlete to participating in 10 semesters.
That leaves Knoblock, who already finished his degree in Entertainment and Sports Promotion in December, as an innocent bystander on the sidelines of the Superior Dome this month while the rest of his teammates learn the new 4-3 defensive scheme of coordinator Brian Newberry.
Ostrowsky isn't worried about his star linebacker - the quarterback of his defense - falling behind, however.
"You can't worry about things you can't control," Ostrowsky said. "I don't think there is any question that if he was here in the spring, he'd be that further along, but I think his experience will equal it out and he'll be just fine."
Privitelli is back on the field for Northern, doing what he did before he got injured - everything.
Ostrowsky called his super-senior tailback, punt returner and kick returner - who also showed he can throw after completing 2 of 2 passes in 2010 for 24 yards and a TD - as explosive as anybody when healthy.
That should make Privitelli's assessment of his comeback music to the rookie coach's ears, saying he is in "the best shape I've ever been in."
"I took that month off of winter break. I did some running on the beach to strengthen my ankle, strengthen my knees and get my legs back under me," said Privitelli, who could have graduated with a degree in finance in May by taking 20 credits this semester, but instead decided to stretch it out.
"Spring ball is going good. My leg is 100 percent. Conditioning-wise, I feel like I'm in better condition than last year. I'm planning to have a bigger year, a longer season than last season."
Northern is set to scrimmage for the first time this spring at 4 p.m. today at the Superior Dome after six practices, but according to Privitelli, every day has been game day under Ostrowsky thanks to the up-tempo pace and the first-unit offense facing off against the first unit defense daily.
"A big thing that Coach O has changed is the ones are going against the ones this year," Privitelli said. "You're going against another starting defense. It's something I haven't seen in all of my football career. It's always been first-team offense vs. scout or second team. I've never been against the first-team defense in practice and that alone puts you in a game tempo."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.