Aug 14, 2013
Over the next two weeks, NIUHuskies.com will preview every position on the 2013 Northern Illinois football team, continuing today with the fullbacks and tight ends. 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. Thursday's position group: specialists.
Previous Position Previews
Fullbacks and Tight Ends
DeKALB, Ill. – If you are looking for one position group on the NIU roster with a wealth of depth and experience, then the Huskies’ fullbacks and tight ends might be the best place to start.
As a unit, they don’t touch the ball very much, as they combined for two rushes and 13 receptions during the entire 2012 season. However, the impact they have on the offense – whether the ball is in their hands or not – is undeniable.
Take those two rushing attempts, for example. The first one came in the Homecoming contest against Buffalo. Clinging to a slim 7-3 lead early in the second quarter after the NIU offense was forced to punt for the second consecutive series. However, the Huskies sprung a fake punt on the Bulls with tight end Luke Eakes (St. Marys, Kan./St. Marys) taking a direct snap and rumbling around the left end for a 32-yard gain and a first down deep in UB territory. Five plays later, NIU scored their first seven of 38 unanswered points en route to a 45-3 romp over Buffalo.
Exhibit two: NIU trails Florida State, 7-0, late in the first quarter of the 2013 Discover Orange Bowl and the momentum seems to be on the Seminoles side after they seemingly forced the Huskies into their third straight three-and-out to open the game. However, Northern caught FSU off-guard and ran a fake punt – the same exact play from the Buffalo game – with Desroy Maxwell (Evanston, Ill./Amundsen) going 35 yards into Seminole territory. NIU’s field goal not only got the Huskies within 7-3, but it also stemmed the momentum that FSU had built in their previous drive.
“These guys play a big role in our offense, number one in the run-blocking phase and, number two, as a formidable pass threat,” said position coach Tim Polasek. “We’re a group right now that’s trying to develop a lot of variety in a bunch of different skills. That’s a lot of fun because they’re involved in pass protection, run blocking, pass routes, special teams, the whole nine yards. The importance with us is adding variety to our offense and being able to do everything.”
As far as what to expect from this unit in the 2013 season, Eakes believes the group’s contribution could be much more substantial on the stat sheet instead of only in film.
“The impact is a lot bigger,” he said. “We’re getting used more in the passing game.”
Heading into 2013, many of the major contributors return to bolster the offense. At fullback, juniors Rob Sterling (Lansing, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) and Ricky Connors (Powder Springs, Ga./Harrison) will man the first and second spots on the two-deep for the second consecutive season. Though neither has a career rushing attempt to their credit, their lead blocking skills will surely help the Huskie running game hum along.
“Rob Sterling adds a lot of things that happen outside of the grass, outside of the lines,” Polasek said. “He does a great job with leadership from the standpoint of getting the young guys ready. He does a great job with everything we ask him to do on the football field.”
“Ricky Connors is similar. It’s harder to lead when you’re a backup, but he does a great job with assignment football and executing his role. Their role is to be physically dominant and make an impression on the other team that says ‘We’re ready for a fight.’”
Meanwhile, NIU features six brings back six tight ends for this season. Along with Eakes and Maxwell, junior Tim Semisch (Omaha, Neb./Millard North/Nebraska Omaha) is expected to bring significant contributions to the position, while Devonté Majors (O’Fallon, Mo./Fort Zumwalt West), Jess Striedl (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles East) and Kevin Tennenbaum (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove) offer plenty of experience behind that group of three.
The highlighters of that unit – Eakes, Semisch and Maxwell – feature both size and athleticism that make them both effective blockers and dangerous pass catchers. Eakes finished the 2012 season with only eight catches. However, those eight grabs went for 268 yards, a whopping 33.5 yards per catch. Meanwhile, Semisch caught two passes for nine yards last year, but his fingertip grab at Army was arguably one of NIU’s best catches on the year.
“We are an experienced group,” Polasek said. “I think we’re still a group that is developing and coming. Desroy Maxwell played last year, but he’s got a little ways to go. He’s done a great job of getting better this fall. Luke Eakes is right on par. He’s got a very good chance to be a great player in this conference. I think Tim Semisch adds a little bit of everything. He’s come on in the run game and he’s brought some new things.”
Additionally, Eakes believes that the tight end group also adds a bit of uncertainty for opposing defenses, especially when there are so many weapons in the backfield and on the edges.
“We pose a huge threat because you can’t tell what we are going to do when we are in the game,” he said. “It’s very impactful, I think.”
The tight ends will also be bolstered by the addition of three freshman from the state of Wisconsin in Jake Heckel (Waukesha, Wis./Waukesha West), Ryan Stendler (Mequon, Wis./Homestead) and Shane Wimann (Wisconsin Dells, Wis./Wisconsin Dells). That trio comes to NIU after standout high school careers in which they excelled at multiple sports at their respective schools.
“It’s pretty unique,” Polasek said. “I’m from Wisconsin, so those kids being (from) Wisconsin, we can relate to certain things, so that’s comfortable. It makes it easy to get along. I’m really excited about all three. Shane Wimann has done a great job. He’s got a chance to contribute and I don’t know if he’s going to pass somebody up, but that could happen. Learning the offense has been the slow part, but being physical and catching the ball, those things are natural for him.”
“Ryan Stendler from Homestead obviously comes from a program that has won multiple state championship, really understands physical football. We’re excited about his ability to block. Jake Heckel from Waukesha West, it will be interesting to see what he can do. I had him in camp at my last school and he did a great job, so I’m real excited about his physicality and what he can bring to the group.”
With a blend of depth and experience, Huskie fans should rest easy knowing that NIU’s tight ends and fullbacks will be a unit they can rely on in 2013 and into the future.
Wednesday’s Practice Highlights
- The Huskies took part in their third two-a-day of the preseason, as they took the field at 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
- Following some special teams work, the morning session started with the classic “Oklahoma” drill, where an offensive lineman and defensive lineman go one-on-one in an effort to either get the running back past the defender to stop the back. Though the drill only lasted a few short minutes, it clearly energized the team after nearly a week and a half of preseason practice.
- QB Jordan Lynch looked very crisp in his passing both in the pocket and on the run. On one particular play, the senior rifled a pass right into the hands of redshirt freshman Clayton Glasper along the right sideline. Glasper, who had two defensive backs breathing down his neck as the ball arrived, used near-perfect form to haul in the pass and maintain possession going out of bounds.
- At 6-7, TE Tim Semisch is an imposing figure in the passing game. On two occasions, he used every inch of his frame to haul in passes. In the tight end-linebacker passing drill, Semisch fought past the defender and made a diving catch on a fade pass. Later on in the morning session, the Omaha, Neb., native made a leaping grab of a Lynch pass to draw cheers from the offensive side.
- The defense was definitely not without their highlights. In the morning’s hurry-up drills, the NIU first and second team defenses stoned the Huskie offense on consecutive drives. The trend continued into the evening practice, as the defense sacked Lynch as time expired for the first stringers and a missed field goal resulted for a win for the second team defense.
- NIU’s next practice will be Thursday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. at Huskie Stadium.
The Huskies open the 2013 season at Iowa Aug. 31st while the home opener against Eastern Illinois is set for Sept. 21st. Season and single game tickets for Northern Illinois' 2013 home schedule are on sale now. The new Huskieland Plan, which includes a ticket to all five home games (sections A and G) and $50 in Doggie Dollars good for parking and/or concessions, is just $50. All remaining season ticket locations for the 2013 Huskie Stadium home slate are just $100 while NIU Alumni Association members, senior citizens (62+), youth (3-13), NIU Varsity Club (former letterwinners) members and faculty and staff can see every game for just $88. Season tickets are available by calling NIU Athletics at 815-753-PACK (7225), or go online to www.NIUHuskies.com/tickets for complete information and order forms.
Single game tickets are priced at just $15 for seating in the upper rows of sections A and G in Huskie Stadium, while seats in sections B, F and lower A and G are $24 for the general public and $18 for senior citizens (ages 62 and over) and youth (ages 3-13). Seats in section C, D and E, as well as seats on the East Side, are just $30 for the general public and $20 for senior citizens and youth. Single game tickets for the five-game home schedule can be purchased through the NIU Athletics Ticket Office in the Convocation Center, online via Ticketmaster and NIUHuskies.com and on the phone by calling 815-753-PACK.