NIU legend Mark Kellar dies at 71

Carpentersville native, NFL player still all over NIU rushing record book

Mark Kellar

Northern Illinois University football great Mark Kellar, the 1973 NCAA rushing champion who still holds six school records and ranks among the Huskies’ top four running backs all-time, passed away in Minneapolis on November 23 at the age of 71.

Known as the Carpentersville Crusher during his NIU playing days for the physical running style he brought from the fullback position, Kellar was a three-time team Most Valuable Player who led the Huskies to their first successful seasons in what was then known as the “major college” (now Football Bowl Subdivision) ranks. His No. 31 is one of only four retired jerseys in the Huskies’ 123-year football history, and he was inducted into the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, 1983. He remains one of the most prolific fullbacks in NCAA history.

In his senior season of 1973, Kellar rushed for 1,719 yards on 291 carries in 11 games to claim the NCAA Division I-A rushing title over Pitt’s Tony Dorsett, Penn State’s John Cappelletti and Ohio State’s Archie Griffin, breaking the NIU school records for yards and carries he had set the year before. Kellar, who averaged 156.3 yards per game that season, tallied three 200-yard plus rushing games and was named to the United Press International National Backfield of the Week twice, including for a 246-yard, 40-carry performance versus Illinois State that set the NIU single-game rushing record.

At the end of the season, he earned honorable mention All-American honors from the Associated Press, UPI, Football News and Kodak, and played in the North-South Shrine Game.

Kellar led NIU to a seven-win season as a junior in 1972 with 1,316 yards and nine touchdowns on 285 carries to rank sixth in NCAA Division I-A in rushing. He totaled 710 yards on 168 carries with nine touchdowns in his initial year as a sophomore in 1971 (freshmen were not eligible until 1972).

Kellar concluded his Huskies career with 3,745 yards, 744 attempts, 33 touchdowns and 20 100-yard rushing games in 31 career games. He was the 18th player in the history of major college football to crack the 3,000-yard barrier.

He still holds the NIU records for most carries and most yards by a fullback in a single game, a season and a career, and his career totals for both yards and attempts rank fourth among all backs. Kellar’s career average of 120.8 rushing yards per game is third at NIU all-time, while his 20 100-yard rushing games, 32 rushing touchdowns and 33 touchdowns scored are in the Huskies’ top 10.

Kellar was selected in the sixth round (155th pick) of the 1974 National Football League Draft by the Minnesota Vikings and was a seventh-round choice of the Chicago Fire of the World Football League and elected to begin his professional career with the WFL team, where he set records for scoring and most yards gained in a season. After two seasons in Chicago, he played three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings (1976-78), totaling 74 career yards on 25 carries with five receptions in 33 career games played.

A Carpentersville native who came to NIU out of Dundee-Crown High School, Kellar’s younger brother, Scott, followed him to DeKalb and eventually into the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame himself.

Mark Kellar is survived by his brother, Scott, and his daughters Marcella (Brandon) Ward, Grace Kellar, Meagan Kellar; granddaughter, Audrey; siblings, Dawn Kellar McCoy, Scott (Dana) Kellar; also survived by nieces, nephews, other relatives and friends.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday with visitation beginning at 1 p.m. at Washburn-McReavy Edina Chapel, 5000 West 50th St., Edina. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to the Alzheimer’s Association of MN/ND. More information is available at washburn-mcreavy.com.

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