Aug. 13, 2010
NIUHuskies.com is previewing every position on the 2010 Northern Illinois football team during preseason camp. Today, read about the Huskie running backs. In addition, sign up for Huskies All-Access to see a video breakdown of every position with interviews and practice highlights. The video will be available within 24 hours after the article is posted. Look for our next position group breakdown on Monday as we take a look at the Offensive Line.
DeKALB, Ill. - Over the years, Northern Illinois has built its offense around an always solid and often spectacular running game. The Huskies' running tradition is well-known to NIU's current crop of tailbacks, who are determined to uphold and add to that legacy in 2010.
This year's Northern Illinois team features a quartet of talented tailbacks, each of whom brings something different to the Huskies' running game. The list begins with senior Chad Spann (Indianapolis, Ind./North Central HS), who added his name to the list of NIU 1,000-yard rushers with 1,038 yards on 179 carries and a league-leading 19 rushing touchdowns a year ago. Ricky Crider (Evansville, Ind./Reitz HS) also returns for his senior season; the Indiana native earns plaudits from the Huskie coaches for his ability to "do it all" while also serving as another coach in the NIU running backs room. Northern Illinois will also feature two talented, but completely different, newcomers at tailback with 6-2, 242-pound Iowa State transfer Cameron Bell (Round Rock, Texas/Stony Point HS) and 5-9, 174-pound back Jas Hopkins (Stanley, N.C./East Gaston HS) each bringing a distinctive style to the NIU backfield.
"It's a really versatile group," said NIU running backs coach Robert Reeves. "Spann is quick, strong and explosive, he runs low to the ground and is tough to tackle. Jas is not as big, but he runs as strong and runs powerful. He's got great quickness into the hole and doesn't have to slow down to make a cut. Ricky is your experienced vet. He's smart and has great vision. He sees things on the field that a lot of backs just don't see, and he's also great in pass protection. Then Cameron brings the big physical force to the program. Running the football, you need a pounder, but you'll see when he gets into the open field, he can really run too. He's got an extra gear and a burst."
Hopkins, a junior college transfer who is originally from Stanley, N.C., was on campus for spring drills, while Bell is eligible for the Huskies in 2010 after sitting out last year due to transfer rules. With redshirt freshman Antione Kirkland
(Boca Raton, Fla./Olympic Heights HS) and veteran Alan Smith
(Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley HS) also on the roster, the Huskies feel good about the tailback position.
"It is apparent they have worked hard all summer long to make themselves better, bigger, stronger and faster," Reeves said. "Having Jas here for spring has helped him understand our schemes. It's a great group of veteran running backs."
While the tailbacks gain the glory, the Northern Illinois offense will once again rely on senior fullbacks Kyle Skarb (Hawthorn Woods, Ill./Lake Zurich HS) and Connor Flahive (Niles, Ill./Notre Dame HS) in both the running and passing games. Skarb has played in 32 games for the Huskies over the last three seasons and caught 11 passes a year ago, while Flahive has appeared in 21 games over the past two seasons. Having the seniors in place at fullback is a comforting feeling for Reeves and the Huskies.
"They're experienced kids," Reeves said. "Both are tough, they're fun to coach, they understand the game, they understand all the little adjustments and can make them on the fly. They are definitely guys we've got to keep healthy. It's such a banging, physical position that you've got to have depth there. Having that experience and the smarts that Kyle and Connor possess is definitely a plus."
Junior Pat McAvoy (Cary, Ill./St. Viator HS) is the only other fullback with experience on the roster with true freshmen C.J. Compher (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore HS) and Ricky Connors (Powder Springs, Ga./Harrison HS) making progress as they transition to college football.
Reeves said that while competition at the running back positions is intense, it does not stop the veterans from helping teach the young guys, and even each other, to make the team better.
"Even though there is great competition, our guys are coaching each other daily," Reeves said. "Ricky Crider, he could be a coach; Flahive and Skarb, those guys know the offense inside and out, so before I even have to say something in a film meeting or out on the field, those guys are right there coaching the other player up. Those guys are competitive, they're pushing every day, they want to be great and they embrace the tradition of this being a run football program and being a physical, tough, team."
Following Thursday's scrimmage, the first of the 2010 preseason camp for NIU, Northern Illinois practiced twice on Friday. After watching film of the scrimmage, Huskies' Head Coach Jerry Kill was very complimentary of his team's work.
"I think it was a great scrimmage, probably the best one I've seen for a first scrimmage," Kill said. "The kids gave tremendous effort. The weather, for being here in Northern Illinois, was pretty tough yesterday morning. It was hot and we're on turf so it was even hotter."
Midway through preseason camp, Kill also liked the progress NIU made during the two sessions on Friday.
"We got a lot of things done in the kicking game and individually," he said. "In the afternoon, we did more than I expected. We did a tremendous amount of situations. The kids are giving the effort right now. [Saturday] will be a big test to go from a scrimmage Thursday to two-a-days on Friday to a scrimmage Saturday morning."
Saturday's scrimmage is part of Huskie Football Family Fun Day at Huskie Stadium as fans are invited to watch the Northern Illinois practice, pick up their 2010 football season tickets and HASF benefits while kids can play in the bounce house, meet Victor E. Huskie and the NIU cheerleaders and get autographs from Northern Illinois players following practice. Huskie Family Fun Day starts at 9:30 a.m. with ticket pick-up at the West Side Ticket Windows and is free, as is parking for the event.
The Huskies open the 2010 campaign on Thursday, Sept. 2 with a 7 p.m. contest at Iowa State. The game will be broadcast by Fox Sports Net, and can be seen in the Chicagoland area on Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Northern Illinois opens its five-game home schedule on Saturday, Sept. 11 versus North Dakota at Huskie Stadium with kickoff set for 6 p.m. (Central).
Season or single game tickets can be ordered online at www.NIUHuskies.com (click the "Tickets" link on the top of the page), on the phone at 815-752-6800 or in person at the NIU Convocation Center Ticket Office in DeKalb.
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