The Northern Illinois Huskies had a magical 2021 season, winning nine games - including the MAC Championship Game - and this season they return most of their key players and have added even more firepower to their offense.
Head Coach Thomas Hammock has done a great job of setting this team up. The Huskies have plenty of depth and skill on offense as they look to repeat, and expand upon, their success from last year.
The Huskies have six quarterbacks listed on the roster right now - one senior, one sophomore, and four freshman. And there is no competition for the starting job. That belongs to Rocky Lombardi.
Lombardi, a Michigan State transfer, had a great junior season and returns to DeKalb to lead the Huskies once more. The senior completed 58.3% of his throws (200/343) for 2597 yards and had a 15-8 touchdown to interception ratio. He was also second on the team with nine rushing touchdowns and added 472 rushing yards, averaging 5.0 yards per carry.
Ethan Hampton will back him up. Hampton, a redshirt freshman, saw a little action last season - starting the final regular season game against WMU, where he went just 4-10 for 23 yards.
Joining the Huskies this year is sophomore transfer Justin Lynch. Lynch, the younger brother of Huskie-great Jordan Lynch, initially headed to Temple to play for ex-NIU coach Rod Carey but decided to head to DeKalb this season. Last year he saw action in 11 games as a true freshman and was a threat with both his legs and his arm. He threw for 839 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 295 yards and another score.
Dustin Fletcher and Jefferey Lomax are both redshirt freshmen. Fletcher redshirted last year but saw action in the Covid-shortened 2020 season, mostly as a running threat. Lomax joined the team and redshirted last season but was named the “Futures Player of the Year” at last season’s team banquet after leading the offensive scout team.
Finally, there’s Nevan Cremascoli, a new addition this season. A true freshman from New Trier High School in Illinois, Cremascoli had a solid senior season. The two-time All-State player had a solid senior season, passing for 2,400 yards and 18 touchdowns, all while completing 70% of his throws and rushing for another 480 yards and seven touchdowns.
On the ground last season the Huskies netted 234.3 yards per game (5th in the NCAA) and rotated a slew of talented running backs to keep legs fresh and opponents gassed. Many of those players return, including their premier back, Harrison Waylee, who missed most of last season with an injury.
NIU did lose two big players this season: the 2021 Freshman of the Year, Jay Ducker, and fullback/halfback hybrid Clint Ratkovich (who led the team in rushing TDs).
However, they have a lot of returning depth at running back. Of the eight half backs listed on NIU’s roster, four have seen playing time with the other four being true freshmen. And this is a group that should be good for a few years to come as all eight are underclassmen (four freshmen and four sophomores).
The biggest piece returning is Harrison Waylee. Waylee was one of the nation’s leading rushers last season before an injury forced him to miss the final nine games of the season.
Antario Brown will back up Waylee. Last season he started a couple of games and finished the season with 538 yards, five scores, and the highest average on the team (6.6 yards/carry).
Also returning are Mason Blakemore and Billy Dozier. Blakemore saw action in a handful of games and gained 67 yards and had a score on his 17 carries. Dozier played in every game last season but played mostly on special teams and as a wide receiver before transitioning to HB this season.
Nathan Castor, Jaiden Credle, Terron Kellman, and Christian Nash are the new members in the backfield. Credle had a great senior season, rushing for 2,162 yards and 27 touchdowns on 216 carries in 14 games last year.
NIU also has two fullbacks listed - RS freshman Brett Bostad and sophomore Brock Lampe. Both saw action in nine games last year on special teams.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
The Huskies receiving core will be looking for someone else to step up this season. Tyrice Richie has graduated and it was recently announced that star wide out Treyvon Rudolph will miss the entire season due to an off-field knee injury.
However, NIU has quite a selection of receivers to choose from, as there are 18 WRs listed on the roster. And, as with every positional group, they are packed with underclassmen. 15 of the 18 players are underclassmen, two are seniors, and one is a junior.
Without Rudolph, Cole Tucker is the leading returning receiver. Tucker, one of the seniors, sits at just under 1400 receiving yards in his career. The DeKalb native has 110 catches, six touchdowns, and averages 12.7 yards per grab.
The other upperclassmen are both new players that transfered in this season - Shemar Thornton and Kacper Rutkiewicz. Thornton, a senior, caught 73 passes for 993 yards and nine touchdowns in his 34 games at FIU. Rutkiewicz, a junior transfer from Illinois State, is a small, quick receiver that had 38 catches for 651 yards in 28 games as a Redbird. He was also a good kick returner, which we might see this year with Rudolph now out.
The Huskies return only two other players that recorded stats last season - Fabian McCray and Messiah Travis. Travis had 13 catches for 165 yards while McCray had just two receptions for 14 yards.
The other dozen receivers consist of five true freshmen, six redshirt freshmen, and a sophomore.
Trey Urwiler and Jalen Johnson are names to look out for. Urwiler is a redshirt freshmen who played in four games last seaon on special teams before redshirting. Johnson is a 6-3 true freshmen from Aurora, Illinois who could make an impact immediately. A varsity track player in high school, he was also an all-county, all-area, and Athlete of the Year finalist last season. His last two high school seasons saw him amass 73 receptions, 1200 yards, and ten touchdowns in just 14 games.
The Huskies have seven tight ends listed - two seniors, a junior, a sophomore, and two freshmen.
Miles Joiner, Liam Soraghan, and Tristen Tewes all return this season. The trio combined for 30 catches, 258 yards, and two TDs with Joiner leading the way, snagging 16 passes for 133 yards and a pair of scores.
A new addition to the team is Kaymar Mimes. The 6-5 senior tight end is listed on the roster after transferring from Pittsburgh earlier this year. Mimes has the height and physicality to make an immediate impact in the MAC this season and become a go-to player in the red zone.
Drew Cassens, a former QB for the Huskies, made the change to tight end and saw action in ten games last season on the special teams unit.
Chris Stinson and Izuchukwu Ozoh are the other tight ends on the roster. Ozoh redshirted last year and Stinson is a true freshmen this season.