NIU Huskies making a major turnaround following winless season

Local Sports

DEKALB, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) –Last fall NIU’s football team went 0-6 in a shortened season, but in less than one year the Huskies have gone from the bottom of the Mid-American Conference to a point where they’re now the only undefeated team in the conference.

The Huskies are sitting at 3-0 in the MAC thanks to consecutive wins over Eastern Michigan, Toledo, and Bowling Green. Overall, they’re 5-2.  They’re confidence is high.

“Coach Hammock always tells us we’re the best team until proven otherwise, so that’s just the mentality we go into with every week,” said receiver Mohamed Toure.

“All the hard work we put into practice every week it’s awesome to see it pay off on Saturdays,” said fullback Clint Ratkovich. “Yea, I definitely feel like it carries over to the next week. It gives everyone a little more juice.”

But head coach Thomas Hammock doesn’t care about last year or even last week. He’s laser-focused on what’s next, and he knows that confidence and winning streaks can both be fleeting, but there’s no denying the job he’s done infusing this program with young talent. The recruiting efforts of his staff are paying off rapidly.

“We have a talented roster,” said Hammock. “We have grinded and really tried to evaluate well, recruit well, develop well.”

Hammock has brought in players who ‘fit’ into NIU’s program. Guys who aren’t afraid of doing things the “hard way”. Guys who buy-into his system. Guys who won’t bolt when adversity hits. 

“What you see now is when there’s some adversity, when things get hard, the easy thing to do these days is, ‘Oh, well I’m leavin.’ Well good for you, but when you build a program the right way with the right type of young men in the program, they want to stay and be a part of it,” said Hammock.

One sign of a strong team and a strong program is depth. The Huskies seem to have it. They’ve been winning this season despite key injuries. Every time someone goes down, someone else steps in and produces. This past Saturday that someone else was third-string tailback Jay Ducker. He rushed for 210 yards against Bowling Green. There’s so much depth that practices have become intense with guys competing to earn playing time.

“It’s pretty interesting because everyone is competing for spot so it’s like, it’s real intense,”said Toure. “Everybody is trying to make a play.”

“I think these guys are so young in their development that they don’t have a lot of equity right so, the best player’s going to play,” said Hammock.

Hammock also credits the quarterback play of Rocky Lombardi for NIU’s turnaround. Hammock says Lombardi is operating at a high level. This Saturday the Huskies play at Central Michigan.

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