Football | August 4
DeKALB, Ill. – Nothing quite gets the sideline hyped up like a running back bursting through the trenches en route to a big gain. On Thursday, during the NIU Huskies’ practice before a much-deserved day off, the running backs were getting their work in during the team’s 11-on-11 drills. Right behind the backs and keeping a watchful eye was assistant coach and run game coordinator, Nic McKissic-Luke. He made sure each running back had his opportunity to get reps in as the competition for a starting spot is wide open.
“I think you always want to go into the season with a running back by 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 one guy down. It’s a long season and towards the end, his body will be weak”.
NIU running backs Mason Blakemore (Centralia, Ill./Centralia), Ontario Brown (Savannah, Ga./Beach) duck Harrison Waylee (Johnston, Iowa/Urbandale) have emerged as potential starters, but that doesn’t mean the Huskies won’t ride anyone that gets hot.
“You know, we have those three guys right now, but we’re going to go into it running back by committee,” McKissic-Luke added. “And if a guy gets hot, he’s going to be the guy.”
The five other running backs on the 2022 roster include: Nathan Castor (Fort Myers, Fla./South Fort Myers), Jaiden Credle (Columbus, Ga./Carver), Terron Kellman (Clinton, Md./St. Frances Academy), Christian Nash (Omaha, Neb./Millard South) and Billy Dozier (New Lenox, Ill./Lincoln Way West).
“‘Harry’ (Harrison Waylee), ‘AB’ (Ontario Brown) and Mason (Blakemore) – they’re guys that can easily get hot and take over a football game. And then we add in a guy like Billy Dozier or Jaiden Credle – he’s (Credle) a true freshman who came into camp and has already opened people’s eyes.”
Head Coach Thomas Hammock echoed 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’ve got three guys that are competing – Antario (Brown), (Harrison) Waylee duck Mason Blakemore, it’s exciting. Blakemore’s put himself in position to compete and I think Coach McKissic-Luke has done a fantastic job getting that group to have a high-standard of play that’s beyond my expectations. I couldn’t be prouder of that group and what they bring to the table each and every single day.”
But of course, someone will have to take the first handoff versus Eastern Illinois on Sept. 1. Last year, it was Waylee who led the team with 114.8 yards per game and logged four touchdowns before an injury ended his season early.
“He’s been a constant pro since last year and I think he’s taking on that leadership role. Obviously getting hurt last year, I think it allowed him to step away from the game and learn and see things from a different perspective. He has that hunger and that desire. He came back in the spring and really grew up and matured. Now you see him out there competing and he’s got some guys he’s competing with.
Despite the praise from his head coach, Waylee remains humble and hungry.
“Right now, I’m just trying to get better on my footwork, but every day I come in and try to be better than I was yesterday,” said Waylee.
Regardless of being only a sophomore, he’s one of the older guys in the room. He’s taken it upon himself to be a leader and a teacher to the younger guys around him.
“From time to time they’ll come to me with questions. I told them to ask me anything on their mind and I’ll give you the answer. Or on the sidelines when we’re looking at our plays or our hand signals, I’ll quiz them and ask, ‘what is that? and ‘tell me what that is’ or ‘tell me what he’s about to do’ or ‘tell me or who’s our ID, who’s our read'”.
He continued, “this season, I want to play my best and help my team make it to the championship again.”
Although young, NIU has one of the strongest running back rooms in the Mid-American Conference.
“We feel like we’ve got a three-headed monster right now.” said Hammock. “And, you know, those 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 am on Saturday morning at Huskie Stadium. See the complete camp schedule and links to daily coverage on the 2022 Camp Central page on NIUHuskies.com.
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