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2021 MAC Positional Previews: NIU Huskies offensive skill positions

A look at the Huskies’ quarterbacks, running backs, and wide outs for the 2021 season

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 12 NIU at Eastern Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It wasn’t that long ago that the Northern Illinois Huskies were atop the MAC when it came to offensive firepower. Players like Garrett Wolfe, Chandler Harnish, Jordan Lynch, Nathan Palmer, and Kenny Golladay ran over their MAC foes.

But, over the past few season, the Huskies offense has stalled out; going from nearly 520 yards and 40 points per game in 2013 to just 24.8 points and 367.5 yards per game last season....and those numbers, sadly, are an improvement. The low came in 2018, Rod Carey’s final season, when NIU averaged just 20.1 points per game and 322.3 yards per game.

Since that 2018 season, NIU has actually seen a small increase on offense - going form 20.1 points per game to 23.8 and finally to 24.8 in 2020. Their yardage has also slowly increased under Hammock, going from 322.3 yards per game in 2018 to 356.5 yards in 2019 and before reaching 367.5 yard per game last year.

This season it looks like the Huskies should continue their climb upwards as they have a bunch of young guns, and some new arrivals, that can help spark the lackluster offense.

In 2020 the Huskies went with a very young lineup, with over 70% of their starters being underclassmen. However, because of that, the Huskies return all but seven offensive players this season and lost just four starters - Ross Bowers (QB), Daniel Crawford (TE), Dennis Robinson (WR), and Benn Olson (G).


Quarterbacks:

With Ross Bowers gone, it looks like the Huskies will turn to another former P5 player. Back in December former Michigan State Spartan quarterback, Rocky Lombardi, a redshirt junior, announced he would be transferring to NIU.

At MSU, Lombardi appeared in 22 games - starting nine (with a 4-5 record). He threw for for 1,902 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while connecting on 47.8% of his passes (159-for-332) and also rushing for 166 yards.

NIU has three other quarterbacks listed on their spring roster - Dusting Fletcher (Fr.), Rodney Thompson (RS Jr.), and Ethan Hampton (Fr.).

Dustin Fletcher and Rodney Thompson both saw action last year for NIU but mostly used their legs. Thompson was 1-for-2 passing with 34 yards and added 20 yards and a touchdown on six rushing attempts. Fletcher didn’t even attempt a pass but did run the ball 16 times for 99 yards. Hampton is a 6’3 true freshman out of nearby Elburn, Illinois who was named All-State in 2019 and can also use his legs to extend plays.


Running Backs:

NIU has five running backs listed - Harrison Waylee, Clint Ratkovich, Jevyon Ducker, Erin Collins, and Donavan Bieber.

Waylee, a freshman, had breakout season last year as he led the team in rushing with 456 yards and touchdown on 107 attempt. Collins was second on the team, adding 192 yards and four scores on his 50 carries.

Clint Ratkovich is another transfer into DeKalb. The 6’1, 228 pound senior transferred in from Western Illinois where he was a dual threat runner and receiver. As a Leatherneck, Ratkovich rushed for 429 yards and three touchdowns and 1204 receiving yards and had ten touchdown receptions

Ducker and Bieber are both freshmen who have yet to see any playing time at the collegiate level.


Wide Receivers:

The Huskies have a very young receiving corp, with freshmen making up 80% of their wide outs.

Only two of the ten receivers aren’t freshmen - senior Tyrice Richie and junior Cole Tucker.

Richie has been the go-to wide out since joining NIU in 2019. Last season he was far and away the leading receiver for the Huskies, with 53 catches for 597 yards and four touchdowns. Richie was also named a first team All-MAC selection by Athlon Sports.

However, it was Treyvon Rudolph that shined last season as a true freshman. In 2020, Rudolph had 14 grabs for 232 yards and also returned 30 kickoffs for 717 yards. His stats led to him joining Richie as a first team All-MAC selection going into 2021.

Cole Tucker has been a very consistent player over the past three season, playing in all 32 games and amassing 823 yards and three touchdowns in that span.


Tight Ends:

NIU has eight players listed as tight ends/fullbacks, with five of them being freshmen.

With Daniel Crawford not returning the Huskies have just one player with a reception at tight end - sophomore Brett Bostad, who had a single catch in 2019 for five yards.

Otherwise, there are three players that have been on the field but have no official stats. Luke Mallette is the lone senior on the team but only appeared in one game last season. Liam Soraghan, a redshirt junior, has also seen time in 19 games, mostly on special teams. Finally, redshirt freshman Tristen Tewes has seen action in ten games, mostly on defense, where he tallied six tackles and a tackle for loss and had a single kick return for seven yards.


Once again the Huskies are loaded with very young talent at the skill position. Thirty of the 42 offensive players on NIU’s roster are freshmen of some sort; either redshirt, covid, or true freshmen.

2021 looks like it will be another year of seeing where these young players stand and looking for growth. The addition of Lombardi might help the Huskies in conference games but, with a weaker line and skill players, he might struggle against Georgia Tech and Michigan.

Waylee and Rudolph should be able to expand on their solid stats from a year ago and will most likely anchor the Huskies offense, along with Richie, who will most likely be NIU’s leading receiver yet again.