DEKALB, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — NIU opens up their season with a Thursday night game against Eastern Illinois.

Head coach Thomas Hammock addressed the media on Monday. He said they’ve had their full focus on this game since last Tuesday and he’s confident his players know the game plan inside and out.

“You know our kids are starting to feel that energy and it’s good,” said coach Hammock. “That competitive fire, that competitive nature of what it takes to get prepared for this first game has been good for us, especially the last couple of days.”

Veteran defensive tackle James Ester is ready to lead the defense this year, especially with the talent he has surrounding him.

“I think you are going to see a lot of guys, and I’ve said this in the past, a lot of guys in similar positions, but performing at a much higher level and I think that’s going to be huge for us,” said Ester. “And we also have a lot of depth on the d-line. They are guys who can come in and provide that spark.”

The depth doesn’t just come for the defense, but for the offense too. With 22 returning starts from their championship winning team, the Huskies have experience.

“We have a lot of guys that are going to be in different spots and I think that creates a challenge for a defense,” said coach Hammock. “But we have the flexibility with our personnel to be in a lot of different formations, to be in a lot of different personnel sets and to try to feature what guys do well.”

Coach Hammock continues to stress the depth of this team. They have the flexibility to be in a lot of different formations to make them more dynamic as an offensive unit.

Expect to see quite a few different playmakers out there come Thursday.

The game will kickoff at 7 p.m. It’ll be the 39th time these two schools have met on the football field.

The game will be shown on ESPN+.