On Tuesday, the Mid-American Conference made it official — and in a big way.
Connors was named Northern Illinois University’s first male recipient of the MAC’s new Medal of Excellence Award, which was presented at the conference’s annual Honors Dinner in Cleveland.
The Medal of Excellence will be presented annually to one male and one female student-athlete from each conference school. The recipients, nominated by their respective schools, represented their athletic departments at the highest levels in terms of academics (a minimum 3.5 grade-point average), athletics and community-service involvement.
“It’s an obvious honor,” Connors said of the award, “but I wouldn’t have been here without my support group of my teammates, coaches and professors.”
Connors is the true definition of what the NCAA means when it uses the term “student-athlete.”
He earned two bachelor’s degrees — in political science and sociology — in just 3½ years, graduated last December with a 3.73 GPA and earned academic all-MAC honors as a fullback for the Huskies.
Connors has already completed his first semester as a graduate student in political science and will return to the football field this fall for his final year of eligibility.
Connors has been a valuable part of the Northern Illinois offense, mainly as a blocking back for former Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch, a 2013 Heisman Trophy finalist. When he finally got his only opportunity to touch the football last year, Connors knew what to do with it, catching an 11-yard touchdown pass against Eastern Michigan.
In two active seasons at Northern Illinois, Connors — who redshirted in 2010 and did not see game action in ’11 — has helped the Huskies to a pair of 12-2 seasons, and two trips to bowl games, including the Orange Bowl following the 2012 season.
Though the fullback position has become a specialized role in the NFL, Connors is looking forward to a much different career path.
“I think this will be my last year as a fullback,” he said. “It would be a dream of mine to play in the NFL, and I would definitely give it my all, but I’ve hit my head enough already.
“The NFL wasn’t really a goal of mine when I came to Northern Illinois. What I wanted to do was get to a Division I program and contribute on the field, and I’ve done that.”
Connors is continuing his studies in political science with a focus on American government. He said he has always had the idea of working in federal law enforcement and hopes to get a job with the FBI, CIA, Drug Enforcement Administration or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms once he gets his master’s degree.
Joining Connors as the other Northern Illinois recipient of the Medal of Excellence was two-time all-MAC gymnast Kim Gotlund.
“Kim and Ricky are fantastic representatives of NIU and NIU Athletics, and we’re very proud of their accomplishments,” athletic director Sean Frazier said in a university release. “Congratulations to them as well as to their families, professors and coaches, who all played a role in their success. I’m happy to see the league provide this recognition to individuals who excel academically, athletically and socially.”