NIU football: Huskies open spring camp Tuesday

By Frank Gogola

Football officially gets back in the swing of things with the start of spring camp Tuesday.

The Huskies open spring practice 6:50 a.m. Tuesday at Huskie Stadium or the Chessick Practice Center depending upon the weather. They’ll practice 15 times during spring camp with the final practice being the Huskie Bowl 2 p.m. April 11 at Huskie Stadium.

The Huskies return 19 starters off of last year’s MAC Championship squad: eight on defense, seven on offense and four specialists.

“This spring we’re going to try to find out who we are and find out who our leaders are going to be,” said head coach Rod Carey. “… Every great team is senior-led and it is player-driven. … If you’re a senior-led, player-driven team and they’re invested and they’re bought in, you could do about anything.”

Carey expects redshirt junior quarterback Drew Hare, although not a senior, to take on an even larger leadership role than he had last year. The Huskies went 11-3 last year, winning the MAC Championship for the third time in four years before suffering their third-straight bowl loss.

“It’s kind of the weight of the quarterback,” Carey said. “It’s the way football is. Quarterback is like being the center fielder for the Yankees. You’re the guy. Whether you want to be or you don’t want to be, you’re the guy.”

Hare threw for 2,322 yards and 18 touchdowns to just two interceptions as he completed 59.5 percent of his passes last year. He also ran for 900 yards and eight rushing touchdowns, both tops among returners. Even with the performance, Carey isn’t ready to give Hare the reins of the quarterback position.

“I don’t think you’re ever just given anything in football,” Carey said. “I think you have to earn it. We’re a new team. He certainly has a leg up on the competition with his play and how he has gone about this offseason. He’s not untouchable.”

Although the Huskies lost wide receiver Da’Ron Brown and his team-best 1,065 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns, Hare will have wide receivers Chad Beebe and Tommylee Lewis back from injury. They’ll complement the big-bodied Juwan Brescacin and Kenny Golladay, who was forced to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, among others.

Carey said Beebe and Lewis will practice in limited roles during spring camp.

The Huskies will also have to replace three offensive lineman in Tyler Loos, Tyler Pitt and Ryan Brown. Carey said the plan is to use an eight-man rotation upfront, just like last year.

For the first time under Carey the Huskies will start spring camp before spring break. They practice four times this week and return March 17 before ending April 11. Carey said there were four reasons for doing this: The players are done early with camp so they have more time to prep for final exams, spring break divides up the practices so it’s not 15-straight practices, finishing early means players will be able to go home for Easter weekend with their families and there’s more time to heal from injuries before fall camp.