DEKALB, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF)– In the last three years NIU’s football program has gone from worst to first and back to worst in the MAC West. Could that pattern continue this fall with the Huskies rebounding once again?

The Huskies will open up spring practices Wednesday morning.  It’s a fresh start after a disappointing 2022 season when they finished in last place in the MAC West with a record of 2-6. Overall, the Huskies were 3-9.

“Certainly these guys have a chip on their shoulder,” said head coach Thomas Hammock during a pre-spring press conference. “I think these guys have championship experience, championship DNA. They haven’t lost that. I think maybe people outside of this building may have forgotten that, but they haven’t lost that.”

The Huskies motto is “The Hard Way”. They expect to succeed regardless of whatever adversity comes their way, but last season they were hit hard by key injuries that were difficult to overcome. The first one came in preseason practices when playmaking receiver/kick returner Trayvon Rudolph was lost for the season with a knee injury. Hammock says Rudolph is on target to be a factor again this fall.

“He’s looking good,” said Hammock. “He’s ahead of schedule. He’s running. He’s cutting. He’s doing a lot of things to get himself ready to play.”

The Huskies were also hit hard last season when their quarterback and offensive leader Rocky Lombardi suffered a knee injury in the third game against Vanderbilt. He was done for the season. Now Hammock says Lombardi is back to good health and anxious to play.

“He’s certainly chomping at the bit. He’ll be on a snap count. He’s feeling good. He’s feeling healthy.

To try to prevent injuries in the spring, Hammock will cut back on the reps for the Huskies more experienced players while giving younger guys more of an opportunity to make an impression.

“We’re gonna be smart. We’re going to try to develop the middle third of our team. That’s important to us because we feel like that is the group that, if there are injuries during the season, we want to make sure those guys are ready to play.”

“We are competing against our own standards. We have standards. We have expectations of what we want to do, how we want to practice, how we want to execute and that’s going to be daily.”

The Huskies will have 15 spring practices. They’ll conclude Saturday, April 22nd with their spring showcase. That will be open to the public starting at noon.