Northern Star




Northern Star

Northern Illinois University’s student news organization since 1899


Ensure student journalism survives. Donate today.

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Hammock previews NIU spring football, position competitions

Tim Dodge
NIU football players run onto the field of Huskie Stadium before their game against Eastern Michigan University on Oct. 21, 2023. Head coach Thomas Hammock previewed the 2024 regular season at the Pre-Spring Press Conference. (Tim Dodge | Northern Star)

NIU football head coach Thomas Hammock spoke to the media at the NIU Football 2024 Pre-Spring Press Conference. In case you missed it, here are the biggest takeaways from Hammock’s 22 minutes at the podium. 


Hammock commenced Monday’s pressers by highlighting the priority topic discussed during team meetings: special teams.

“We really wanted to emphasize the importance of special teams – we feel like we really have a deep team and a lot of depth in our team,” Hammock said. “We got 97 guys going through practice this spring, which is by far the most we’ve ever had, and so it’s very competitive to get on the bus, and the easiest way is through special teams.” 

As seniors move on and certain players transfer, special teams present opportunities for athletes to showcase their abilities and vie for a starting position. Hammock intends to use special teams as a means to finalize his team roster, and the process could extend into fall. 

“What I told our players is, guys are fighting for positions,” Hammock said. “You’re not fighting to be a starter right now, you’re fighting to get yourself into position, and then we’ll evaluate you in the summer, then we’ll evaluate you in fall camp, but really, you want to be in position.”


Nine defensive starters are slated to make returns to second-year defensive coordinator Nick Benedetto’s top-25 ranked unit. Despite the defense shouldering much of the load last season, a scheme shift isn’t off the table.

“We just wanted to make sure we had time to evaluate our schemes defensively,” Hammock said. “We were a top-25 defense last year. Coach Benedetto and his staff – having our whole defensive staff back for another year, the continuity it brings allows us to step ahead as far as our development and the plan for how can we become a top-20 defense.”

Hammock delegated play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Wesley Beschorner after a sluggish offensive start to the season. Beschorner, along with new additions on the offensive staff and roster, could ignite a shift in philosophy. 

“Offensively, we did the same thing,” Hammock said. “Obviously coach Beschorner, it’ll be his first full off-season in charge of the offense, has done a phenomenal job getting the staff on the same page. We’ve hired a new offensive line coach, coach (Luke) Meadows… Our schemes will be better, it’ll be different, we will maximize our personnel to the best, the best that we can.”


While Hammock never mentioned another specific position battle, one position was thoroughly addressed: quarterback. 

With former NIU quarterback Rocky Lombardi departing for the NFL draft, Hammock and company are actively searching for a successor.

Despite redshirt junior quarterback and 2023 spring ball offensive co-MVP Ethan Hampton being the most seasoned option, Hammock has yet to vocalize his commitment – and he’s in no rush. 

“I’m in no hurry to name a quarterback,” Hammock said. “I think we have a really good team around the quarterback, so for us we want to make sure we give these guys every opportunity to show what they are, what they can do, how they can operate – how they can build the chemistry on offense.”

Although Hammock did not mention anyone specifically, he set the standard based on two distinct qualities.

“They got to protect the football,” Hammock said. “We got a good defense, we got a good run game, we got good receivers — your job is to protect the football, the ball is the program. If they can show that and show the ability to make plays in, in critical situations on third down, in the red zone, that will give us a chance to win.” 

NIU kicked off its spring practices on Tuesday and will continue to practice three days a week until the Spring Showcase on April 27.

More to Discover