Share Tweet Share Email

Huskies By Position: Tight end, fullback jobs spark heavy competition among several players

August 16, 2011
Jack Marks (No. 89)

Jack Marks (No. 89)

The Northern Illinois football team held the third of five two-a-day practices of first year head coach Dave Doeren’s preseason camp Monday at Huskie Stadium.

In the final week of camp, Doeren is ramping up the reps with three two-a-day practices over a five-day span. The Huskies will have double duty on Wednesday and Friday as well, allowing Doeren and Co. to install the final components of their system before preparing for the season and home opener Sept. 3 against Army.

“We start school next Monday so we need to maximize every chance we get,” Doeren said. “We don’t go long. They are short, crisp practices. We were out here earlier this morning, and it wasn’t a high contact practice; it was more focused on repetition and individual work. This evening was a good opportunity to get a lot in. We sped around. We are still trying to get our legs back.”

Two parts of Doeren’s system that will see new faces in the starting lineup are at the tight end and fullback positions, which are coached by Kevin Kane, who spent the last three seasons with Doeren as a member of the Wisconsin football staff.

Last year, then-junior Jason Schepler anchored the tight end spot and senior Kyle Skarb did the same at fullback. However, Schepler will miss the season due to a knee injury and Skarb graduated. On paper, the losses look minimal as the duo combined for 10 catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns. But both held critical roles as their excellent blocking prowess allowed the Huskies to set the Mid-American Conference record for rushing yards in a season and break eight offensive single season school records.

“The fullback position is a big part of what we do,” said Kane. “We like to motion people around a lot and create mismatches with our bodies. Our fullbacks are not your traditional fullbacks: stocky guys that pound the ball. We do have that capability, but we have guys that can spread it out. The fullback in our offense is a huge, huge weapon that we have at our disposal.”

“For the tight ends, both the running game and passing game are a huge part of what we are going to do,” Kane said. “In the running game we are a big part in setting edges and cutting people off. We take great pride in getting people into space. In the passing game, we have some big targets to throw to downfield and in the flat. Hopefully the tight end can be the quarterback’s best friend here. The guys are getting better and catching a lot more balls. We are excited about where we are going here in the future.”

The list of candidates to play tight end in 2011 starts with fifth-year senior Jack Marks.

The 6’6”, 251 pounder served as the second-team tight end in 2010 and has a chance to emerge as the starter in 2011. He made a pair of starts last season and tallied eight catches for 75 yards in 14 games. Marks also appeared in eight games during the 2009 campaign, making one catch for five yards.

“Jack has done a tremendous job this year in being a leader,” Kane said. “When a guy like Schepler goes down we need guys to step up. Not just one person can take over what he did. Jack has done an awesome job.”

Behind Marks are Adam Kiel and Tim Semisch. At 6’5” and 290 pounds, Kiel brings plenty of blocking skill and experience to the tight end corps after making the switch from offensive tackle to tight end. The fifth-year senior played in all 14 games last season, filling in at both tackle spots, to help block for the Huskies’ record-setting season.

Semisch, the youngest of the group, has considerable size at 6’8”, 270 pounds. The freshman redshirted last season at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and transferred to NIU after UNO dropped its football program. As a three-time All-State selection in hockey and lacrosse for Millard North High School (Omaha, Neb.), Semisch adds good size and athleticism to the tight ends unit.

The list of candidates to play fullback in 2011 begins with fifth-year senior Cameron Bell. The 6’2”, 250-pounder is on his third position change of his career and brings significant backfield talent to the group. He spent the 2007-08 seasons at Iowa State as a linebacker before moving to running back after transferring to NIU. In his first Huskie season, he played in eight games to total 228 yards on 39 carries for an average of 5.8 per attempt.

“Cam Bell has done an incredible job making the transfer over to fullback,” Kane said. “He’s a big, physical guy who likes to hit people. We are excited about what he can do.”

Following Bell are Luke Eakes, Pat McAvoy and C.J. Compher.

Eakes is the largest of the corps at 6’4”, 250 pounds. The redshirt freshman was twice named one of NIU’s work team players of the week in 2010 and was an All-State selection in the final two years of his high school career at St. Mary’s (St. Marys, Kan.) as he played tight end, defensive end and linebacker.

McAvoy, a 6’1”, 236-pound fifth-year senior, spent most of the 2010 season as the Huskies’ third-team fullback and has appeared in six career games.

Compher also redshirted last year. The 6’1”, 235-pound freshman was a two-time all-conference tight end for local Sycamore High School (Sycamore, Ill.).

Monday’s morning session had the Huskies in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts as they went through 22 five-minute periods of positional drills, scout team work, and red zone 11-on-11 situations. The highlight of the practice came near the end as Semisch caught a wide-open, third-down touchdown pass after selling a blocking fake. The score sent the offensive unit into a frenzied celebration.

NIU geared up in full pads for the evening session, which entailed 22 more periods of work. With a lot more contact involved, the Huskies worked on special teams, positional drills, skeleton drills and 11-on-11 situationals.

For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit