Hammock encouraged by growth of young NIU players despite 0-4 record

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DEKALB, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — An 0-4 record would be cause for alarm for most college football teams. At Northern Illinois it’s a different story for the Huskies and head coach Thomas Hammock.

The reason is simple, the Huskies are playing a bunch of freshmen, and those freshmen getting better with each passing week. Last Saturday in a 30-27 loss at unbeaten Western Michigan the Huskies started 11 freshmen. Nine of them were true freshmen. Seven of those freshmen started on the defensive side of the ball.

Don’t get me wrong, Hammock isn’t happy about being 0-4, but he sees the big picture of a program that’s building a foundation for the future. He said as much Tuesday during his weekly Zoom conference with reporters.

“I think we’ve got a young football team that’s learning, that’s growing. I’m excited about these guys. I’m excited about the way they compete. Certainly it’s never an ideal situation to start ten (actually 11) freshmen, but at the same time those same guys give us a chance to go out there and win football games.”

NIU has the second youngest roster in all of major college football. 73.0 percent of the roster is made up of underclassmen (81 players, 60 freshmen, 21 sophomores). The only school in the country with a younger roster is the University of Oregon. 73.6% of the Ducks’ roster is made up of underclassmen.

Hammock says his young team is beginning to grasp what it takes to succeed at the Division I level.

“I really felt like Sunday in our preparation for Western Michigan I thought the light bulb started to go off as far as what needs to happen on the practice field, how we need to practice, how we need to prepare, how we need to execute. I thought they really took that intensity in their preparation.”

The Huskies have two games remaining. This Saturday they’ll host 2-2 Toledo. Next Saturday they’ll play at Eastern Michigan. Hammock says the goal is simple. “The first goal is to be 1-0. That’s the only goal this week is to find a way to, you know, try to get a victory. Try to get these guys to understand that the hard work and their sacrifices are being rewarded. That’s the big thing.”

Despite their 0-4 record Hammock says the Huskies still go into each game with the outlook of winning.

“We expect to win. They expected to win last week. They put the preparation in to win, and we expect to win this week. There’s no ‘hope’ in our vocabulary.”

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