The Northern Illinois Huskies might have won nine games and the MAC Championship Game last season but, if there was a weak spot on this team, it was the front seven. The Huskies allowed 452.7 yards and 33.7 points per game (both 10th in the MAC), and even allowed a league-worst 3002 rushing yards on the season.
However, they were using eleven young players, most of whom were underclassmen and most of whom will be starting again this season with a whole year of growth and experience under their belts.
The Huskies have eight defensive tackles and ten defensive ends on their 2022 roster, with only three of the 18 players being upperclassmen - two seniors and a junior. The other 15 are comprised of seven freshmen and eight sophomores.
Possibly the biggest addition to the Huskies lineup this year is the addition of Izayah Green-May, a senior defensive end who transferred from Wisconsin. Green-May, initially from the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, played in nine games for the Badgers last season, one game in the shortened 2020 season, a dozen games in 2019 and six games as a freshmen in 2018. He’s a big and powerful force but, sitting at 6-6 and 242 pounds, he’s still quite quick. Look for him to add an immediate impact to the Huskie pass rush and get some much needed pressure on the quarterback.
Raishein Thomas, Pierce Oppong, and Michael Kennedy all return up front as well.
Thomas, the seventh leading tackler on the team last season, is just a sophomore and coming off a season where he netted 48 stops, three pass break ups, 2.5 TFL, two fumble recoveries, and half a sack. Kennedy, now a senior, was right behind Thomas last season, amassing 44 tackles, four TFL, four QBH, and a sack. Oppong, a sophomore, also added 15 tackles, three TFL, a sack, and a pair of QBH.
James Ester and Devonte O’Malley, both sophomores, return this season. O’Malley had a great season last year when he compiled 16 tackles, four TFL, a team-leading four sacks, three QBH, and also forced a fumble and blocked a kick. Ester had 25 stops, 5 QBH, 3.5 TFL, two sacks, a pass break up, and a blocked kick.
Cade Haberman, Demond Taylor Jr., and Jacob Waskow also all had playing time last year, each appearing in all fourteen games for the Huskies.
Entering his unprecedented eighth season at NIU, Kyle Pugh leads the Huskie linebacking corp. He is one of 17 linebackers and one of just two upperclassmen in the group - the other being junior Nick Rattin. Of the remaining 15 LBs, there are six sophomores and a whopping nine freshmen.
Pugh has had to battle through injuries more than once in his career but, if he can stay healthy, he is a pure play-maker and will be all over the field.
Rattin, the other familiar face, has made a name for himself over the past few seasons in DeKalb. He played in 12 games (starting six) in 2019, finished fourth on the team with 33 stops in 2020, and, last season, he ranked third on NIU with 73 tackles and also added seven TFLs, six QBH (team-high), and had a pass break up, sack, and forced fumble.
Sophomores Jayden Dolphin and Daveren Rayner are also back and looking to improve on their 2021 performances. Dolphin was tenth on the team, with 38 tackles, but also had 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, and a 59-yard interception that he returned for a touchdown. Rayner had 29 tackles, a sack, and a TFL in his eight games last season.
Makhi Nelson-Douglas, another sophomore, should be seeing more playing time as well. Last year he played in eight games - and started four - as a true freshman. He finished the year with 33 tackles, three TFL, and a forced fumble.
Look for guys like Dayven Shinhoster, Elijah Hamm, and a pair of true freshmen - Nick Alvarado and Rashon Myles Jr. - to also be active and get some reps on the field.
It’s a front seven that should be much improved after some key additions and a whole year of game experience and growth.