Aug. 21, 2012
2012 NIU Preaseason Camp Central
DEKALB, Ill. - On paper, it would seem that the Northern Illinois linebackers would experience a drop-off in production in 2012. After all, the unit did lose defensive leaders Pat Schiller and Jordan Delegal, both of whom occupied the middle and strong-side linebacker positions and finishing first and third in tackles last season.
Critics may claim that replacing 197 tackles, 14.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks would be a daunting task for the Huskies to accomplish.
So should Huskie fans expect a drop in production? Don't plan on it. In fact, the NIU 'backers are primed to be a pleasant surprise this season.
“(There’s) a lot of football IQ," said NIU linebackers coach Kevin Kane. "Guys are playing a lot smarter than in the spring and they have a lot more knowledge of the system and what’s going on. I expect them to know everything that we’ve been doing and they know it so far.”
The roster features plenty of youth in the linebacking corps. Among the 11 linebackers listed on the roster, nine are redshirt sophomores or younger - including five that are either freshmen or redshirt freshmen. However, opposing offenses should not let that fact fool them, as four have extensive playing time and a fifth emerged as a special teams standout late last season.
“(There are) a lot of guys back who have played, so you’re not seeing mistakes from last year in the new system," said head coach Dave Doeren. "Tyrone, our best leader on defense if not on the team, helps a lot. Santa played a lot for us last year. Jamaal Bass played a lot for us last year. When Vic was playing, he had a lot of good plays for us. Just a lot of confidence and experience back on the field.”
Of course, leading this unit is senior Tyrone Clark (St. Louis, Mo./Mehlville). After earning NIU's Defensive MVP award in 2010, Clark sat out last season, but looks to return to form in 2012.
“Tyrone’s been awesome," Kane said. "He’s been everything I thought he would be and more. He’s a senior leader. He’s a guy making plays on the field and he brings the whole defense up to his level. That’s something as a coaching staff that we expect him to do and he’s going to continue to do that all year.”
As a senior leader this year, the St. Louis native knows what he needs to do and expect from his fellow linebackers to make sure NIU's linebackers exceed expectations this season.
“I feel like it is important for me to be consistent," Clark said regarding his position as senior leader. "Just try to do what I do every day on a consistent basis: Make plays, be a leader and get everybody riled up.
Beyond Clark, the Huskies will also look to get help from Jamaal Bass (Miramar, Fla./Miramar), Michael Santacaterina (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) and Victor Jacques (Miami, Fla./Christopher Columbus). Though Jacques has missed a good portion of camp due to injury, redshirt sophomores Bass and Santacaterina should see plenty of action this year.
“Jamaal’s had a great offseason considering everything’s he’s been through," Kane said. "He’s come back focused and ready to play. He’s made a lot of plays this fall camp. When gametime comes, he’ll be a big guy to handle.”
“Santa’s done a great job. He had a great spring and a great fall. It will be fun to see him on the field.”
The surprise of the fall, though, has been redshirt freshman Boomer Mays (Lawrence, Kan./Eudora). After not playing last season, Mays has already emerged as a strong candidate to start at middle linebacker come Sept. 1.
“Boomer’s a young kid," Kane said. "He’s very physical and great at the ‘Mike’ position. He’s been able to get a lot of reps this fall. He’s a kid who, as he plays, he gets better. The more he plays, the better he’s going to get and guys are going to have trouble blocking him because he’s so physical.”
Outside of those five, Bobby Winkel (Batavia, Ill./Marmion Academy) - a redshirt sophomore who emerged last season as a special team standout - and Ryan Gorrell (Westchester, Ill./Montini Catholic/Minnesota State) have also caught the coaching staff's eye and could get extended playing time this year.
The unit is rounded out by redshirt freshman Videl Nelson (Kansas City, Mo./Staley) and true freshmen Mike Cotton (O'Fallon, Ill./O'Fallon Township), Ladell Fleming (Chicago, Ill./Julian) and Cody Hazelett (Inver Grove Heights, Minn./Simley).
So what should we expect this year from the Huskie linebackers?
“They will be fun to watch," Kane said. "They play fast. They play smart and they are going to make a lot of plays.”
Notes from Practice
Tommylee Lewis was a special teams weapon last year, but the Floridian has also impressed on offense this fall. The sophomore showed off his speed on the third down drill when he outran the secondary and snagged a near-perfect throw from Jordan Lynch over the middle for what would have easily been a touchdown... The offensive line had a great showing on Tuesday, stifling the highly-experience defensive line on multiple occasions in the rush team segment... The level of competition in fall camp is always high, but that drama hits an all-time high in the running back-linebacker pass block drills, where the running backs look to keep a blitzing linebacker from reaching the "quarterback." With cheers coming from both position groups throughout, the running backs emerged as the victors to even the series between the two groups at two wins apiece.
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.