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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

COLUMN: Evaluating NIU’s top quarterback options

QB battle persists after spring ball
Eddie Miller
A graphic shows redshirt junior quarterback Ethan Hampton, redshirt junior quarterback Jalen Macon and redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Holst. Sports Reporter Skyler Kisellus believes the three have emerged as the top contenders to succeed Rocky Lombardi as NIU’s starting quarterback. (Eddie Miller | Northern Star)

NIU football may have wrapped up spring practices last week, but its ongoing competition for the most important position in team sports remains unsettled.

With three-year starter Rocky Lombardi graduated and now vying for a roster spot in the NFL, NIU’s starting quarterback is a question waiting to be answered. Head coach Thomas Hammock has been tight-lipped about the team’s quarterback situation but said after practice April 6 three players have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. 

Though he hasn’t named names, rep counts during spring ball suggest the three standouts are redshirt juniors Ethan Hampton, Jalen Macon and redshirt freshman Josh Holst.

That being said, I’ll examine each of the three signal callers and their case for the starting job.


Widely considered the de facto starter heading into spring ball, Hampton is the most experienced QB on NIU’s roster. He backed up Lombardi for the past three seasons and started four games in Lombardi’s stead during that span – albeit going 0-4 in those starts.

Hampton’s familiarity with the offensive system and chemistry with the unit, not to mention his prior game experience against Football Bowl Subdivision competition, gives him a leg up in the QB race. However, he’ll need to fine-tune his accuracy and mitigate his past turnover tendencies as the battle persists through the summer and into fall camp.

With Lombardi out of the picture, this is Hampton’s best shot at winning the starting job. If he can’t, he may not have another chance – at least not with the Huskies.


One of NIU’s two portal pick-ups during the winter transfer window, Macon appeared in 10 games over two seasons at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

In addition to a handful of game experience, he brings elite athleticism and arm talent. Macon hasn’t shied away from using his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame to tuck the ball and run, either. 

Macon’s size and speed would make him an excellent complement to Hammock’s run-first offense, but his learning curve for a new system may make Macon a riskier option at QB compared to returners like Hampton and Holst. Though if he’s able to pick up on offensive coordinator Wesley Beschorner’s system quick enough, Macon has the potential to bring NIU’s offense up to the level of its vaunted defense.


Holst checks in as the Huskies’ least-experienced passer, being the only one in the group to have never taken a college snap. But what Holst lacks in experience, he makes up for in the intangibles.

The former Marengo Community High School standout possesses an excellent sense of anticipation and field vision. Combined with his quick release, Holst has high upside. 

The biggest key for Holst, like with most quarterbacks early into their careers, is slowing the game down mentally to make better on-field decisions. Depending on how long that takes for Holst, he can set himself up to start as early as this season or inherit the duties later in his career.


Several stages still remain in the saga of selecting Lombardi’s successor. Players will report for summer workouts May 28.

Regardless of who Hammock gives the starting nod to, QB1 likely won’t be revealed until they take the field Aug. 31 in NIU’s season opener against Western Illinois University.

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