NIU Football Position Preview: Defensive Line

Football | August 6

DeKALB, IL – After watching Saturday’s fifth practice of the 2022 NIU Football preseason camp, it would become clear that one position group that is making strides and continuously improving is the Huskies’ defensive line.

Between defensive tackles Demon Taylor Jr. (East St. Louis, Ill./East St. Louis) covering running back Ontario Brown (Savannah, Ga./Beach) in the flat on a screen pass, defensive end Raishein Thomas (Racine, Wis./Washington Park) getting to the quarterback in situation drills, and Jacob Waskow (Canton, Ill./Canton) coming up with a fumble recovery near the end of the day, NIU’s front line of defense is making an impression on head coach Thomas Hammock.

“If you have a good program, your defensive line is normally the strength of the program,” said the head coach Thomas Hammock. “If your defensive line is good, it forces your offensive line to be better and the competition helps your program.”

“Our d-line is really growing up, getting stronger, and are more hungry. There’s a lot of depth and competition, and they’re making a lot of plays. We feel we can go 10 deep and our young freshmen are giving our offensive line a lot of quality work.”

Redshirt-Sophomore tackle James Esther (Detroit, Mich./Cass Tech) leads the group, one year after earning Third Team All-Mid-American Conference honors. Ester had 25 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in 2021. Sophomore defensive tackle Devonte O’Malley (Midlothian, Ill./Bremen) led NIU last season with four sacks among his 16 tackles of the year. That duo, along with Taylor, Waskow and sophomore Cade Haberman (Omaha, Neb./Westside), played in all 14 games in 2021.

“I think we have three or four guys competing for starting-type reps, but at defensive tackle if you’re not two-deep, you’re not one-deep,” said defensive line coach Jordan Gigli. “You need depth at that position. Our job up front is to create havoc and make plays. Sometimes that means taking on a double team and somebody else makes a play. You’re mixing the ability to be an unselfish football player while, at the same time, when you get your opportunity you have to make the play in front of you.”

Thomas looks to build on a solid rookie season in 2021, where he had 48 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss in 14 games from the defensive end position. Redshirt Senior Michael Kennedy (Chicago, Ill./Mount Carmel) also had over 40 tackles a year ago and added another four tackles for loss. Add in sophomore Ivan Davis (Canton, Mich./Plymouth), transfer Izayah Green-May (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) from Wisconsin and that just bolsters a group that looks to make an improving defensive unit better.

“We’ve been doing a real good job of playing more physical at the line of scrimmage, using our length, speed and strength from snap to whistle,” said the defensive ends coach Travis Moore. “That’s going to give us a chance to be more dynamic up front. We’re extremely excited about some of the young guys – Roy Williams (Crestwood, Ill./Shepard), Cameron Crowell (Columbus, Ga./Carver), Dawson Ripperda (Larchwood, Iowa/West Lyon) – who came here to play ball and they have the same tool our older guys have. It’s a combination of us growing as a program, but more importantly growing the identity of our defensive line.”

The Huskies practiced for two hours on the Huskie Stadium turf Saturday. After a day off Friday, NIU worked on more situational drills in team sessions. While the defense shone, the offense had its fair share of highlight plays. Tight End Tristen Tewes (Pleasant Plains, Ill./Pleasant Plains) made a brilliant one-handed catch down the sideline. Running Back Mason Blakemore (Centralia, Ill./Centralia) broke a 30-yard run in one of the final team periods of the day.

“I love the energy and excitement the guys had today,” Hammock said about Saturday’s practice. “Our defense is playing at a high level. They’re continuing the level of play they played at this spring and are carrying that momentum into the fall. They’re going to be a force to be reckoned with and I’m excited about their progression.”

The Huskies practice in full pads for the first time in camp on Sunday, starting at 10 a.m. See the complete camp schedule and links to daily coverage on the 2022 Camp Central page on

NIU opens the 2022 season versus Eastern Illinois set for Thursday, September 1 at Huskie Stadium. Tickets for the upcoming NIU football and volleyball seasons are on sale now. Season tickets offer the best value, with football tickets priced as low as $15 per ticket with the Huskie Plan. Mini-Plans and single game tickets are also now on sale. See all the pricing options online here. To purchase season tickets or mini-plans anytime, CLICK HERE or call 815-753-PACK (7225) Monday through Friday.


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