The Northern Illinois University football team is heading down the home stretch of its preseason camp and while some of the guys may be tired after almost two weeks of practice, you wouldn’t know by watching it.
As the Huskies wrapped up practice No. 14 Tuesday afternoon at Huskie Stadium, they have maintained their enthusiasm and energy level throughout camp. NIU head coach Dave Doeren feels the closeness of this squad has contributed to the enthusiastic atmosphere in camp.
“They’ve got a great spirit about them,” Doeren said. “They really enjoy the game and being around each other. We talk about our team being a family. Part of that is coming out to practice and lifting each other up. Our guys do a great job of that.”
One veteran that is putting together a solid camp is wide receiver Perez Ashford. Since his arrival at NIU, it seems Ashford makes a catch that make people take notice at every practice. Today, he made three of them, two one handed grabs and one nice leaping catch.
“They call him ‘Sneaky’ because he quietly makes a lot of plays,” Doeren said of Ashford. “He’s collectively putting together one of the better bodies of work in our camp so far.”
One group that isn’t quiet is the NIU linebacking corps. It is always very vocal on the practice field and excitable. A trait it shares with their position coach.
When linebacker coach Tom Matukewicz, then interim head coach, addressed the team after one of its bowl practices in Boise announcing he would be joining Doeren’s coaching staff, senior Alex Kube jumped to his feet and gave his position coach a big hug as the rest of the Huskies applauded. His presence has been a calming influence on a position group that has seen a lot of change.
“It has been a challenge,” Matukewicz said. “What that created were some opportunities for some kids and they’ve really taken advantage of it.”
Senior Pat Schiller (Geneva, Ill./Geneva), who saw limited action as a backup last season while recovering from a knee injury, has captured the starting spot at middle linebacker. It’s a position he is very comfortable in.
Schiller started all 13 games at middle linebacker in 2009 and made a career-high 82 tackles, ranking third on the team. He recorded 18 stops in nine games for the Huskies last season and has 124 for his career.
Another veteran, who has moved from a reserve to the starting line up is Jordan Delegal (Miam, Fl./Chaminade). His speed and athleticism have allowed him to cover a lot of ground and be an asset on special teams. He also brings experience to the position, having seen action in all 27 games the last two years and tallying 67 tackles, including a career high in 2010 and four sacks in 2009.
Two players that have taken advantage of the opportunities presented to them are Victor Jacques (Miami, Fla./Christopher Columbus) and redshirt freshman Michael Santacaterina (Geneva, Ill./Geneva). Jacques has claimed the third starting linebacker position, while Santacaterina has been practicing with the second team.
Matukewicz has been pleased with the unit’s desire to improve each practice. He feels that’s its biggest strength.
“The strength in the linebacking corps is they want to get better,” Matukewicz said. “They’re really trying to master their craft.”
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.