HUSKIES BY POSITION: YOUNG RUNNING BACKS SEEKING IMPACT

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Aug. 17, 2012

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HUSKIE ALL-ACCESS HIGHLIGHTS

From August 10-27, NIUHuskies.com will preview every position on the 2012 Northern Illinois football team - today's feature are the 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. Monday's position group: the defensive line.

DeKALB, Ill. - In all but one year (2008) since 1999 Northern Illinois has featured a 1,000-yard rusher. A stout rushing attack has grown into a staple of the Huskie football program over the last decade-plus and it continued to be in 2011 under first-year head coach Dave Doeren.

Last year, it was quarterback Chandler Harnish who hit the 1,000-yard mark - Stacey Robinson (1989 and 1990) is the only other quarterback in program history to do so. But featured back Jasmin Hopkins was only three yards shy of joining Harnish as NIU's five-man rushing attack put up the fifth-most yards in NIU single season history (3,278), the sixth-most touchdowns (34) and eighth-most yards per game (234.1).

With Harnish and Hopkins gone due to graduation, the Huskie backfield will look different in 2012 but could ultimately perform nearly the same, which has been the trend of the program - the names change but the production stays the same.

"I expect the QB running game to continue," said Doeren. "As far as the running backs, there's a three-way competition between Akeem Daniels, Leighton Settle and Jamal Womble. All three having been doing good things and have been pretty good throughout camp. I'm really happy with how the running backs are developing. Akeem Daniels had a really nice practice today."

Guiding the ground game in 2012 will belong to first-year running backs coach Mike Uremovich, who spent the last seven seasons as head coach at the University of St. Francis. The New Lenox, Ill., native is no stranger to the program as he served as a graduate assistant at NIU under former head coach Joe Novak, who was responsible for starting the impressive 13-year 1,000-yard rushing run.

"Mike has been a head coach, offensive coordinator and special teams coordinator before," Doeren said. "So he has a wealth of experience and knowledge. He's a guy that was a G.A. at NIU -- he loves this place. It's dear to him and he's an Illinois native. He has a wide spectrum of knowledge that he brings to the running back room. The last seven years he's been coaching an entire football team so now he just has the running backs. They are getting a lot of details from him."

"I'm excited to be hear," Uremovich said. "I really like the players and staff - it's a fun group to be around. Everyone is working hard and I have a great room of guys. All of our running backs can play. They are good kids. We've had a lot of fun so far in this camp. We have a lot of work to do but it's been fun so far."

"We have very high expectations [of the running backs]. We have a lot of guys that can play and do different things. There will be a bunch of them that will play. We have guys that can go out at wide receiver and we have big backs that can stuff it in there. It's a very talented group and a fun group to coach."

By watching his backs train over the offseason, instead of watching tons of film, Uremovich took a more hands-on approach to getting acquainted with his unit. He feels that NIU has a capable, well-rounded stable of backs that our working well together.

"Jamal Womble, being a senior, is our oldest guy in the group," said Uremovich. "He's done a great job this camp. Really, every one in the room is taking an active part in leadership and helping each other out. There's a lot of camaraderie out there. Running back is unique in that there's only one of them out there at a time so when that one guy is in there the other guys are watching and coaching and helping them out. I've been really happy with that."

The leading returning rusher is junior Akeem Daniels (Kissimmee, Fla./Osceola). Splitting time between wide receiver and running back in each of his first two seasons, Daniels will focus solely on being a running back in 2012 that can be a threat in both the rushing and passing game. After getting only 12 combined touches in 2010, the Florida native received 73 combined touches in 2011, which led to 303 yards and three touchdowns on 56 rushes (5.4 yards/carry, 21.6 yards/game) and 252 yards and two touchdowns on 15 catches (16.8 yards/catch, 18.0 yards/game).

"It's really exciting to me [to get to compete for the starting spot]," said Daniels. "I get a chance to go out there and showcase my abilities. It's not only about me. It `s a team effort. I'm happy to share the spot with someone else. Whether it's a rotation or just me, whatever the coaches decide I will deal with it accordingly."

Also returning and figuring into the mix will be senior Jamal Womble (Teachey, N.C./Buena (Ariz.)/Hutchinson C.C.), junior Leighton Settle (Madison, Wis./Madison West/Fresno City C.C.) and sophomore James Spencer (Fremont, Ohio/Ross). In his first season with NIU, Womble split time in the backfield and on special teams to amass 124 yards and one touchdown on 37 carries in 2011. Settle also played his first season with the Huskies last year, seeing action in 10 games to total 84 yards on 16 carries for a respectable 5.3-yard average per rush. Spencer split time in the backfield and on special teams as well, tallying just two carries for seven yards in six games.

The newcomers to the group include sophomores Giorgio Bowers (Olympia Fields, IL/Rich Central/Akron) and Cameron Stingily (Romeoville, IL/Romeoville) and freshmen Perez Ford (Romeoville, IL/Romeoville), Keith Harris Jr. (Chicago, IL/Leo) and Alex Morrow (Streamwood, IL/Streamwood). Bowers comes to NIU after spending his freshman season at Akron - in five games in 2010, he had eight carries for 27 yards for the Zips. Stingily saw action in five games as a linebacker in 2010 before a non-football Achilles injury ended his season. After redshirting in 2011, the former linebacker will be switching to running back, which is what he played on offense in high school for Romeoville. As an honorable mention all-state running back as a senior, he ran for 1,007 yards and 13 touchdowns on 147 carries (6.9 yards/carry). Ford earned an honorable mention all-conference nod as a senior at Romeoville, rushing for 602 yards and six touchdowns and was ranked by ESPN as the 18th-best recruit in the state of Illinois. Harris was named to the all-state, academic all-state and all-conference teams as a senior at Leo Catholic after rushing for 1,774 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011. He was also a member of Leo's state championship track & field team in 2011 and garnered all-state honors in the 4x200 relay as a junior. Morrow is a two-time Daily Herald all-area honoree at Streamwood and finished his career as SHS' all-time leading rusher. In 2011, he rushed for 1,318 yards and 15 touchdowns on 204 carries.

As preseason camp continued Friday, Day No. 13 marked the fourth two-a-day practice for the Huskies as they donned just shoulder pads and helmets in the morning session and no pads in the evening. A light situational scrimmage in the morning was highlighted by three forced turnovers from the defense, despite surrendering a 70-yard touchdown run to quarterback Jordan Lynch. The highlight of the evening session came near the end of practice as the first and second units ran a two-minute drill in which both defenses stood their ground.

"There was a lot of competition back and forth today," Doeren said. "We are starting to see some guys really get sore. Their legs seem like they are in quicksand sometimes. I like the spirit and competition and we are really starting to see some guys play within the rules of our systems."

Tickets for the Sept. 1 NIU-Iowa contest at Soldier Field are on sale to the general public through Ticketmaster, as well as the NIU Athletics Ticket Office. Fans can order tickets online at Ticketmaster.com, by calling the Ticketmaster toll-free number at 1-800-745-3000, or in person at any Ticketmaster outlet. The NIU Athletics Ticket Office is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Northern Illinois 2012 football season tickets are on sale now through the NIU Athletics External Office at 815-753-1923 or online at 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 new HuskieLand Plan tickets provide a ticket to the home 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 Hy-Vee.

-NIU-