HUSKIES BY POSITION: SPECIAL TEAMS UNIT IS A SEASONED GROUP

GO HUSKIES Kicker Mat Sims, sandwiched between teammates after kicking the game-winning field goal for the MAC Championship.
GO HUSKIES
Kicker Mat Sims, sandwiched between teammates after kicking the game-winning field goal for the MAC Championship.
GO HUSKIES

Aug. 16, 2012

WATCH THE VIDEO PREVIEW HERE

Over the next two weeks, NIUHuskies.com will preview every position on the 2012 Northern Illinois football team. Tuesday's third installment focuses in on the tight ends and fullbacks. 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. Coming Monday: Defensive line.

Previous Huskies by Position Previews
Wide Receivers (Friday, August 10)
Defensive Backs (Monday, August 13)
Tight Ends and Fullbacks (Tuesday, August 14)

DeKALB, Ill. - With major pieces of the puzzle returning this season, the Northern Illinois special teams unit again looks to be one of the Huskies strengths in 2012. NIU returns All-Mid American Conference kicker Mat Sims, punter Ryan Neir and returner Tommylee Lewis, the only player in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) to return two kickoffs for touchdown in the same game in 2011.

"It's nice to have them all back and to know what you already have on your special teams," said Head Coach Dave Doeren. "Last year they were all competing with each other for jobs at those positions. There's a good chemistry in the corp and we understand their skill set right now."

Charged with leading the special teams is running backs coach Mike Uremovich in his first year at NIU  after spending the last seven seasons as Head Coach at St. Francis in Joliet, Ill. He was quick to point out "even though I have my name with the special teams, it's a group effort. Our whole staff helps out on it and it's something Coach Doeren and the staff take a lot of pride in them so we spend a lot of time working on them."

After breaking the NIU single season record for points made kicking (124), PAT's attempted (66) and in PAT's made (64) in 2011, Sims, a junior from Hanibal, Mo., was a consensus All-MAC and a CollegeFootballNews.com All-Sophomore team selection. Sims finished the season 20-for-28 in field goal attempts with a long of 44 yards against both Cal Poly (Sept. 24) and Kent State (Oct. 8).

While the accolades are great for the kicker's resume, Sims is more likely remembered for his two game-winning field goals last season. The junior nailed a 34-yarder with eight seconds left versus Ball State and another for 33-yards as time expired for the Mid-American Conference Championship against Ohio at Ford Field.

"With the clutch kicks that Sims made last season, he's only going to continue to get better as the year goes on," said Uremovich. Coach Doeren added "the confidence the level in Sims is high right now. I know he's pretty hard on himself but we know who our guys our."

In the punt game, Neir is the Huskies returning big-booted bomber with an average of 35.7 yards per punt in 62 attempts during 2011. The Roscoe, Ill., native pinned opponents inside the 20 yard-line 19 times during the season and with his hang time and accuracy, the now-senior forced opposing returners to wave fair catch on 36 occasions.

"Neir has done a great job so far during camp and has become more consistent" said Uremovich. "He's not only getting distance on them right now, but he's doing a good job of putting them where we want them to go which is very important in our pooch kicking game situations,"

Balancing both kicking and punting duties, sophomoreTyler Wedel returns to handle the Huskies game day kickoff duties. Wedel averaged 60.7 yards per kickoff attempt last season and had a net kickoff average of 39.4 yards per game.

In the return game, sophomore Tommylee Lewis became a household name overnight for the Northern Illinois faithful when he returned two kickoffs back-to-back for touchdowns against rival Toledo. He took the game's opening kickoff 100-yards for a score and followed with a 95-yard scamper on the next return to become the only player in FBS to accomplish the feat in the same game. He was also only one-of-nine players to score two or more return touchdowns during the season. He averaged 25.2 yards per return in 30 attempts.

To help lighten the load for Lewis is fellow wide receiver Perez Ashford, a second team All-MAC pick last year. While he did not see a significant amount of time in kick and punt return situations, Coach Uremovich said "Perez is a heck of a returner and you have to have at least two guys back in the return game because I wouldn't be surprised to see guys kicking away from TommyLee this year." The senior from Shaker Heights, Ohio returned five punts for 31 yards and seven kicks for 122 yards last season.

In closing, Uremovich added "we've done good so far but we still have a lot to work on. I'm very happy with where we are right now."

PRACTICE NOTES
The Huskies took to the field for their two-hour workout at Huskie Stadium with intensity Thursday afternoon, as the different position groups popped the pads in one-on-one drills. The running backs and the linebackers had a great period of one-on-one pass rush and protection that sounded and looked liked game day energy in the early stages of practice. In the end, however, the running backs lost the drill and were forced to do up-downs while the linebackers watched.

The end of practice was particularly notable as the wide receivers and defensive backs did one-on-one pass game at the five-yard line and going into the end zone. The experienced secondary did not allow many touchdowns to be caught by the receivers. The final receiving matchup was the biggest however... Literally as freshman offensive lineman Ron Brown, a 6-3 377 pound offensive lineman from Detroit, Mich., ran a "quick" crossing route to the post, catching the pass against the coverage of Corey Thomas, a 6-2, 308 pound freshman defensive lineman from Chicago. Brown was the offensive hero of the practice as he was mobbed by his teammates in celebration.

Northern Illinois takes the nation's longest Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) winning streak into the 2012 season-opener after winning its final nine games of the 2012 season, including the Mid-American Conference Championship and the GoDaddy.com Bowl. The Huskies play host to Iowa at Chicago's Soldier Field on Sept. 1 and tickets to Soldier Field Showdown III are now on sale through Ticketmaster by calling 1-800-745-3000, or online at www.Ticketmaster.com.



Northern Illinois 2012 football season tickets are on sale through the NIU Athletics External Office at 815-753-1923 or online at www.NIUHuskies.com for just $120 for the full six-game Huskie Stadium season. Mini-plans, featuring any three Huskie Stadium games, can be purchased for $60, while NIU's HuskieLand Plan provides a ticket to the season-opener versus Tennessee-Martin (Sept. 8), the Kansas game (Sept. 22) and the MAC West rivalry game versus Toledo (Nov. 14) along with $45 in gift cards from Buffalo Wild Wings, Village Commons Bookstore and HyVee.



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