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What’s New for the 2023 Northern Illinois Huskies?

After a dismal 2022, there have been a lot of changes at NIU over the past seven months.

Northern Illinois v Kentucky Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Northern Illinois Huskies have been on quite the roller coaster the past few years. After a winless 2020, the Huskies rebounded in 2021 - going 9-5 and winning the MAC Championship - only to fall back to the bottom of the MAC West last season, with a 3-9 (2-6 MAC) record.

And with that reality check last year, there have been quite a few changes for the Huskies - both on the field and on the sidelines.

But first, there are quite a few familiar faces returning to DeKalb this season. Quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who missed most of last season with an injury, is back and will most certainly be under center come September. Wide receiver Trayvon Rudolph, who missed all of last year, is back and will be joining senior Kacper Rutkiewicz (NIU’s leading returning receiver). On the ground, Antario Brown returns for his third season and is the Huskies’ leading returning rusher. And on defense NIU returns two of their top four leading tacklers, C.J. Brown and Jaden Dolphin.

Changes On The Field

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 NIU at Western Michigan Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the most interesting changes to the Huskie roster comes from a familiar name: Justin Lynch. Lynch, who everyone knows as a dual-threat quarterback, underwent a position change and will now take his snaps in the backfield as a running back which, honestly, makes sense as in nine games last season he was only allowed to throw 28 passes while having 64 rushing attempts.

Billy Dozier is another dual-threat player for the Huskies as he is now listed as both a wide receiver and a halfback, meaning we could see him out wide or behind Lombardi. Last season, he had three catches and five rushing attempts, so look for more of that duality this year.

The Huskies were no stranger to the transfer portal this season, as ten players entered the portal. The most hard hitting of which are Harrison Waylee, Marquis Cox, Eric Rogers, Jaiden Cradle, and Daveren Rayner.

Waylee, a former star running back for NIU, transferred out west, joining the Wyoming Cowboys; while fellow halfback Cradle (who was third on the Huskies last season, with 288 yards), chose Middle Tennessee State as his new home.

The Kentucky Wildcats must have seen something they liked when they played the Huskies last year, as two players (Marquis Cox and Daveren Rayner) transferred from NIU to Kentucky this offseason. Cox was a stellar offensive tackle for the Huskies while Rayner, a linebacker, was second in tackles last season.

Another hit for the Huskie defense came when cornerback Eric Rogers left for Rutgers. Rogers led the team with two interceptions last season and added 17 tackles and broke up four passes.

But NIU was also able to use the transfer portal to strengthen some spots.

Junior cornerback Cam’Ron “Shaad” Dabney joins the Huskies as a former three-star recruit that played at Kansas the past two seasons. He played in 23 of the 24 games for the Jayhawks and had 12 tackles and two PBU.

Another big get for Thomas Hammock was senior linebacker Keshon Artis. Artis, a four-star recruit out of high school, was a Virginia Tech Hokie for the past four seasons before joining NIU this year. Joining him is fellow senior linebacker Tyler Jackson, who transferred in from Lamar and has tallied 142 total tackles in his career so far.

On offense, bolstering the backfield is Gavin Williams. The former Iowa Hawkeye is a redshirt junior and will be a great compliment to Brown. At Iowa Williams totaled 471 yards on 116 carries (4.06 yards/rush) and caught 18 passes for 91 yards.

The Huskies also add a six-foot-four wide receiver in Davis Patterson. Patterson joins the Huskies from Notre Damn College (in Ohio) and before that played for James Madison. The past two seasons he snagged 42 passes for 661 yards and five scores.

Finally, NIU was able to nab the #2 kicker from the 2020 recruiting class. Former Ohio State Buckeye kicker, Jake Seibert, signed with the Huskies back in April. As a Buckeye, Seibert was 1-of-2 on field goal attempts but was a perfect 16-of-16 on extra points, however, he did not see any action last season or in 2021.

Changes Off The Field

2021 Cure Bowl - Northern Illinois v Coastal Carolina Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Thomas Hammock returns for his fifth season as head coach for the Huskies. He has a 17-27 record (.386) and has made some changes to his staff for this upcoming season.

On offense not much has changed, as the only addition to the Huskie offense is Wesley Beschorner, who is now the running backs coach and passing game coordinator. Before joining Hammock’s staff, Beschorner was the head coach at UW-Eau Claire for the past three season but has also coached at Pittsburgh, Rice, Maryland and South Dakota.

The defensive side of the ball, however, has seen quite a few more shake-ups.

First, Derrick Jackson, the former co-defensive coordinator, is no longer with the program. He has since joined the coaching staff at Bowling Green. Taking over as the sole defensive coordinator and safeties coach is Nick Benedetto, who was Jackson’s co-hort in 2022.

With Benedetto moving over to safeties, the Huskies signed DJ Bland as their new cornerbacks coach. Bland comes from in-state rival Eastern Illinois, where he served as their defensive pass game coordinator, cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator last year. Prior to that, Bland coached four seasons at Division II Missouri University of Science and Technology as their defensive backs and recruiting coordinator for three seasons before being promoted to defensive coordinator for the 2021 season.

Also joining the Huskies is Adam Breske, who will be the special teams coordinator and linebackers coach. Breske was a PAC-12 coach last season, as a defensive quality control coach for the Washington State Cougars. Prior to that he was the inside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator for the Idaho Vandals from 2018 through 2021.

This is the first in a series of NIU football previews. The next piece dives deeper into the offensive skill positions. That piece is coming soon!

NIU kicks off their 2023 campaign Saturday, September 2nd at noon ET, as they travel to Chesnut Hill, Massachusetts to face off against the Boston College Eagles. As of now, the game is slated to be broadcast on ACC Network.