Running backs power NIU football


Chad Spann will lead the NIU running backs into the 2010 season. Spann rushed for 1,038 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2009.

By Chris Dertz

DeKALB | There are few universal truths in this world.

Taking a shower every day is probably a good idea. There will always be that one girl at the party crying.

Jerry Kill likes to run the football.

It’s that hard-nosed approach that led to NIU’s rushing offense ranking 30th in the nation last year, with returning senior tailback Chad Spann ranking 12th in the nation in scoring.

Keeping the ball on offense also allowed NIU’s defense to be the top unit in the MAC in 2009.

With expectations in 2010 high after the Huskies were picked to win the MAC West, the importance of the running game isn’t lost on anyone.

The universal truth of player turnover isn’t lost on Kill either. After losing two four-year starters on the offensive line in center Eddie Adamski and Jason Onyebuagu, the stability of the offensive line has been one of the team’s biggest question marks entering this season.

Perhaps the most important new piece stepping in is redshirt junior center Scott Wedige, who was mentored into the starting role by Adamski.

“Scott Wedige is a good football player, and he’s done a great job at center leading those kids,” Kill said. “We’ve got some guys that have been waiting their turn, and they’ve done a nice job of stepping up.”

The players have had to step up, as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover said the increased competition has forced the new guys to pick up their game.

That, and the fact that they’ve had to scrimmage against one of the best defensive line units in the MAC.

“The last thing you want to have is a false sense of who you are and what you’re all about,” Limegrover said. “What we’re going up against every day in practice, you can’t replicate that with a work team.”

If the line can step up like the coaching staff is hoping, there will be some very happy people in the backfield. Aside from Spann, NIU has added new tailbacks in former Iowa State linebacker Cameron Bell and last year’s JUCO-leading rusher Jasmin Hopkins.

Bell, who won’t play against Iowa State, is listed at 6-feet-2-inches and 242 pounds, and Hopkins is a smaller scatback runner who could be used on kickoff returns as well as out of the backfield.

“We’ve got an outstanding stable of running backs,” Limegrover said. “It’s great having a group of guys that they all bring something different to the table depending on what kind of game you’re playing.”

The group’s versatility could give the Huskies a more dynamic running attack than they had last season, and if nothing else, Bell’s stature gives them a new weapon.

“Cameron is a load, man. I got to feel all of it when Coach Kill put the ball on the four-yard line,” said linebacker Alex Kube. “It’s a little intimidating. He’s on my team, so I’m happy.”