Talent on ground for football

By Steve Shonder

While football is searching for Jordan Lynch’s replacement at quarterback, it is also trying to figure out how to replace his production on the ground.

The Huskies are bringing back eight running backs from last season’s team, which was fourth in the nation in total rushing with 4,161 yards. They’ll see the return of redshirt senior Cameron Stingily, who was second on the team in rushing with 1,147 yards, and redshirt senior Akeem Daniels, who sat out last season with a foot injury.

Also returning are sophomore Joel Bouagnon, junior Keith Harris Jr., sophomore Draco Smith, redshirt freshman Jordan Huff, redshirt senior James Spencer and redshirt sophomore Alex Morrow. Spencer was the team’s No. 4 rusher with 176 yards while averaging 6 yards per carry.

The six-man backfield gives the Huskies much-needed depth as they try to maintain their high-level rushing attack. With that depth comes a diversity that will allow NIU to keep its opponents guessing.

“We’ve got some guys that can really pound the rock back there,” said head coach Rod Carey. “And we’ve got some other guys that can do some different things out of the backfield. We’ll do it all.”

Running backs coach Kelton Copeland said the backfield is giving the whole team a boost in practices and scrimmages because the defense is seeing a wide variety of styles.

“Anybody that knows our offense knows that we are multiple,” Copeland said. “That’s the true definition of who we are. Just having guys like Cam, Akeem, those young guys like Joel, Huff and Draco, they’re different styles of backs; they’re different sizes, different speeds, different tempos. They’re just making us better.”

Daniels’ return from the injury list gives the Huskies a strong chance at repeating last season’s two 1,000-yard rushing tandem of Lynch and Stingily. Daniels, who was expected to be the team’s No. 1 back last season, is more of a speed back and should pair well with Stingily’s power rushing style. Daniels said he’s coming into this season more prepared than he’s ever been.

“Being away from football — it’s what I love — for a whole a year and some change, it prepared me mentally and made me a lot stronger physically and mentally,” Daniels said. “It was a learning experience in the film room and just standing out here coaching the guys.”

The year on the sidelines has given Daniels a new insight into football, which in addition to his physical skills makes him a smarter back.

“It’s just taking a different eye on the game,” Daniels said. “Instead of just doing the plays and what not, I get to watch the other backs do it and learn what the defense is doing, what goal they’re trying to do against different offensive fronts. I learned a lot on both sides of the ball.”

Although Stingily and Daniels will likely be at the top of the depth chart, nothing will be decided until fall camp ends. Depending on how the backs perform, there could also be a rotation at the top spot. Until then, football will continue having the good problem of too many talented running backs.

“I told somebody … , ‘they have made my job easier’ … it’s basically like pick a back, pick a flavor of the week type deal,” Copeland said.