Huskies By Position: Versatility Key for Huskie Running Backs

GO HUSKIES <i>Sophomore Keith Harris Jr. scored four touchdowns and ran 226 yards as a true freshman.</i>
GO HUSKIES
Sophomore Keith Harris Jr. scored four touchdowns and ran 226 yards as a true freshman.
GO HUSKIES

Aug 22, 2013

Over the past two weeks, NIUHuskies.com has previewed every position on the 2013 Northern Illinois football team, continuing today with 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. Friday's position group: defensive line.  


Previous Position Previews
Safeties
Offensive Line
Linebackers
Fullbacks and Tight Ends
Specialists
Quarterbacks
Cornerbacks
Wide Receivers

DeKALB, Ill. - As students flooded the Northern Illinois campus during the university's annual "Move-In Day" Thursday, the Huskie football team moved further along in preparations for the 2013 season opener versus Iowa with a two-hour practice at Huskie Stadium.

NIU spent its second full day of practice installing its offensive and defensive sets for the game versus the Hawkeyes as crowd noise and music simulating the hostile environment ahead echoed through the stands.

On the offensive side of the field, quarterback Jordan Lynch (Chicago, Ill./Mt. Carmel HS) led the Huskie offense through its paces. While Lynch remained a constant, four different players - juniors Cameron Stingily (Romeoville, Ill./Romeoville HS), Giorgio Bowers (Olympia Field, Ill./Rich Central HS) and James Spencer (Fremont, Ohio/Ross HS), and sophomore Keith Harris Jr. (Chicago, Ill./Leo HS) - worked at running back behind him, each bringing their own strengths to the field.

 

 

According to running backs coach Kelton Copeland, the position very well could be a four-or-five headed monster in 2013.

"Each of those guys has strengths and it's definitely going to be a running back by committee this year where we play to those strengths," he said. "At the end of the day, we ask a lot of the running backs. Although it's only one spot on the field, the players at that position are asked to do everything under the sun from line up at receiver, run jet motion, catch a pass. Obviously in the backfield you are going to be asked to run the ball in a lot of different sets, and also the most important part to me is protecting the quarterback. You have to be sound in a lot of different areas with all the terminology and all we do on offense, you have to be a smart player too."

Although NIU's most experienced back - senior Akeem Daniels (Kissimmee, Fla./Osceola HS) - has been on the sidelines during camp, he has had an impact in the running backs meeting room.

"Akeem is a tremendous individual," Copeland said. "Obviously we've all seen what he can do on the football field. What people don't know about Akeem is he's a tremendous leader and a great character kid. He's awesome to have in the room with the other running backs. He's coaching those guys up. He's been there, done that in the system. He knows a lot and he started as a freshman as a receiver, so he understands the passing game, formations, schemes and concepts in and out."

NIU's next most-experienced back is Harris, who ran for 226 yards on 55 carries in nine games a year ago before missing the final five contests due to injury. The 5-8, 181-pounder scored his first career touchdown in the 2012 season opener against Iowa.

"Keith Harris is a guy coming back with some experience from last season when he played as a true freshman, and did some great things," Copeland said. "We're looking forward to seeing what he can do this season. He's played with some injuries but has made a tremendous effort to fight through those injuries and come back and be a leader for us."

In his first season as a collegiate running back in 2012, Stingily gained exactly five yards on one carry in four games. Entering 2013, the 6-1, 244-pound Romeoville, Ill. product has a chance to be the first tailback on the field on August 31st.

"The guy to really watch out for is Cameron Stingily," Copeland said. "Cameron is a bigger back, he's a different back from what we've seen from Northern Illinois. He does a tremendous job of carrying the ball. He's going to be a good blocker for us, and he's going to give us a different pace than the other style of backs that we have."

Stingily said he feels the running backs will need to carry a bigger load in 2013.

"We're trying to help out Jordan Lynch because I think every team we play is going to be keying on him," Stingily said. "With us making plays, it can open up things for the receivers, open up things for Lynch and also open up things for us. I think the running backs have really been stepping up this fall camp and I know I'm a whole lot more comfortable."

Copeland also had good things to say about the progress and potential contributions of Bowers and Spencer to the NIU offense in 2013. Bowers carried the ball 12 times for 64 yards last year, while Spencer had a pair of carries for 30 yards.

"Giorgio is a good football player; he does a lot of good things, catches the ball and runs with the ball with some good ability," Copeland said. "James Spencer is a guy that's very versatile. He can line up at receiver and doesn't look out of place out there. He can line up in the backfield, carry the ball and does very well in pass protection as well, which you wouldn't think by looking at him."

The running backs currently in camp ran the ball 70 times for 325 yards a year ago, but the group has impressed Copeland, who is in his first season at NIU, with their work ethic.

"The running backs have worked really hard," he said. "They came into training camp with the intent and the mission to get better every day. They already had a good core group when I arrived here in the spring and I just wanted to feed off of the talent and work ethic that these guys already had."

Northern Illinois opens the season at Iowa in two weeks, on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 2:30 p.m. The game will be televised on BTN. The Huskies' home opener is Saturday, Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. when NIU puts its nation-leading 21-game on-campus winning streak on the line versus Eastern Illinois.

Season and single game tickets for Northern Illinois' 2013 home schedule are on sale now. The 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 online at www.NIUHuskies.com/tickets.

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 http://www.ticketmaster.com/NIU-Huskie-Stadium-tickets-Dekalb/venue/33009 and on the phone by calling 815-753-PACK (7225).

Northern Illinois returns to the practice field Friday for the last fully-padded practice of preseason camp. The Huskies will practice at 3:35 p.m. before closing out preseason Saturday afternoon at 2:35 p.m.

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