CEDAR FALLS — Despite being maligned with injuries, Northern Iowa tied a school record for home wins (8), had the FCS’ seventh-ranked defense, finished second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and made the playoff quarterfinals before losing 17-0 at No. 2 James Madison (13-1) Friday night.
Seven starters from the 2019 Panthers are set to see their eligibility run out.
On offense running back Trevor Allen, wide receivers Jaylin James and Aaron Graham and left guard Jackson Scott-Brown will depart.
On defense UNI loses safety Christian Jegen, cornerback Roosevelt Brown and defensive end Seth Thomas.
The Panthers’ seven returning starters on offense and eight on defense earned a combined eight all-conference honors this season.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Will McElvain — an All-MVFC newcomer — threw for a MVFC freshman record 2,778 yards while producing an impressive 20-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Redshirt sophomore receiver Isaiah Weston broke out in 2019 as a star player in the FCS, leading the country with 24.49 yards per catch.
Weston’s 43 receptions led to a whopping 1,053 yards receiving as he routinely took the top off defenses and became a favorite target of McElvain’s.
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Despite missing five games, middle linebacker Chris Kolarevic earned MVFC second-team honors with 79 tackles. Kolarevic, along with Bryce Flater and Spencer Cuvelier, make up three starting-caliber linebackers for two spots as the trio combined for 310 tackles — 27 percent of UNI’s season total.
UNI returns a number of important 2019 non-starters.
Back on offense are running backs Tyler Hoosman and Alphonso Soko, receivers Deion McShane, Suni Lane and Logan Wolf, and tight end/offensive lineman Matthew Vanderslice.
On defense, end Brawntae Wells, tackle Khristian Boyd and backs Micah Mayberry, Spencer Perry and Jevon Brekke return.
Hoosman, Soko, Weston, McShane and tight ends Briley Moore and Tristan Bohr missed a combined 50 games this season. Moore was hurt in the first quarter of the Panthers’ season-opening triple-overtime loss at Iowa State, and was potentially a week away from being cleared for a return before UNI’s Friday night quarterfinal loss.
Moore elected to use a redshirt by not playing in more than four games this season and is poised to boost an offense that struggled mightily in its three playoff games — averaging only 207 yards and 10 points per game — as he’s set to return to the starting lineup alongside Weston in 2020.
UNI opens next season on Sept. 5 against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. The Panthers will travel to Pocatello, Idaho, the next week for a home-and-home series return game with Idaho State before wrapping up non-conference play Sept. 19 at home against current FCS semifinalist Weber State.