NIU Football Position Preview: Running Backs

Soccer | August 4

DeKALB, Ill. – Nothing really rocks the sideline like a running back bursting through the trenches en route to a big win. During Thursday’s practice for the NIU Huskies ahead of a much-needed day off, the running backs were doing their thing during the team’s 11-on-11 drills. Just behind the back and keeping a watchful eye was the assistant coach and running game coordinator, Nic McKissic-Luke. He made sure every running back had the opportunity to get reps as the competition for a starting spot is wide open.

“I think you always want to go into the season with one running back per committee because of the physicality of the position.” said McKissic-Luke. “You don’t want to get to a point where you have to wear a guy down. It’s a long season and towards the end his body will be weak.”

NIU running backs Mason Blakemore (Centralia, Ill./Centralia), Antario Brown (Savannah, GA/Beach) and Harrison Waylee (Johnston, Iowa/Urbandale) have emerged as potential starters, but that doesn’t mean the Huskies won’t get on someone who gets hot.

“You know, we have these three guys right now, but we’ll come back to it in committee,” McKissic-Luke added. “And if a guy gets hot, he’ll be the guy.”

The other five running backs on the 2022 roster include: Nathan Beaver (Fort Myers, Florida/South Fort Myers), Jaiden Cradle (Columbus, Georgia/Carver), Terron Kelman (Clinton, Maryland/St. Frances Academy), Christian Nass (Omaha, Neb./South Millard) and Billy Dozier (New Lenox, IL/Lincoln Way West).

“‘Harry’ (Harrison Waylee), ‘A B’ (Antario Brown) and Mason (Blakemore) – these are guys who can easily get hot and take over a football game. And then we add a guy like Billy Dozier Where Jaiden Cradle – he’s (Credle) a real freshman who came to camp and opened people’s eyes already.”

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The head coach Thomas Hammock echoes McKissic-Luke’s statements.

“It’s a great group of players and they’re very competitive. As of today, I couldn’t tell you who the starter would be. I think we have three guys who are competing – Antario (Brown), (Harrison) Waylee and Mason Blakemore, it’s exciting. Blakemore has put themselves in a position to compete and I think Coach McKissic-Luke has done a fantastic job of getting this group to a high level of play that exceeds my expectations. I couldn’t be more proud of this group and what they bring every day.”

But of course, someone will have to take the first transfer against Eastern Illinois on September 1. Last year, it was Waylee who led the team with 114.8 yards per game and had four touchdowns before an injury ended his season early.

“He’s been a consistent pro since last year and I think he’s taking on that leadership role. Obviously getting injured last year, I think that allowed him to step away from the game and to learn and see things from a different perspective. He’s got that hunger and that desire. He came back in the spring and really grew and matured. Now you see him out there competing and he’s got guys that he is in competition.

Despite praise from his head coach, Waylee remains humble and hungry.

“Right now I’m just trying to improve my footwork, but every day I come in and try to be better than yesterday,” Waylee said.

Regardless of the fact that he’s only a sophomore, he’s one of the older guys in the room. He took it upon himself to be a leader and a teacher for the young people around him.

“Once in a while they come and ask me questions. I told them to ask me whatever comes to mind and I’ll tell you the answer. Or on the sidelines when we watch our games or our hand signals, I’m going to interrogate them and ask them, ‘what is it? and ‘tell me what is it’ or ‘tell me what he’s about to do’ or ‘tell- me or who is our identity card, who is our reading'”.

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He continued, “This season I want to play my best and help my team win the championship again.”

Although young, NIU has one of the best running rooms in the Mid-American Conference.

“We feel like we have a three-headed monster right now.” said Hammock. “And, you know, these guys want to start and it’s important to them. So it’s going to be tough, I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision!”

The Huskies will be back on the practice field at 10:15 a.m. Saturday morning at Huskie Stadium. See the full camp schedule and links to daily coverage on the Camp Central 2022 page on NIUHuskies.com.

Purchase NIU Football tickets now online at NIUHuskies.com or by calling 815-753-PACK (7225) during regular business hours. Ticket options include season tickets to see all six Huskies home games, mini-plans that include the all-Saturday ($90) or all-week ($78) package, and single-game tickets, at price from $18 to $40 depending on the game. Season tickets offer the best value with prices as low as $14.67 per ticket with the Huskie Family 4 Pack (does not need to be bound), $97 for general admission seats East Side or $144 for West Side Reserved Seating. Premium zone tickets are also available both per season and per game. For more information and to see all the options and prices, click here.

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