Hammock excited about NIU Football’s incoming recruiting class

Huskie+Stadium+Aug.+12%2C++from+the+East+entrance.

Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

Huskie Stadium Aug. 12, from the East entrance.

James Krause, Sports Editor

DeKALB — The NIU football team had 22 high school players sign letters of intent to join the program on National Signing Day Wednesday. 

Just days following a loss that ended NIU’s shortened season at 0-6, Head Coach Thomas Hammock said he felt the class of incoming recruits included additional pieces to fix the areas of concern for the Huskies.

“It’s a great day to be a Huskie,” Hammock said. “I’m very excited about this class. I think we added some pieces to the puzzle and continue to develop depth and talent to our program.”

Hammock said he and his staff were able to mitigate some of the recruitment challenges COVID-19 created with the 300 recruits who visited campus with their families in January before the pandemic hit the U.S.

The class includes 16 three-star recruits and the highest rated recruit in program history, according to the recruitment reporting website 247Sports.com. 

Coming off a year that saw 13 first-year players start at least two games for the Huskies, Hammock said there will be plenty of chances for young guys to compete for starting spots come 2021.

“It allows you to be a lot more competitive,” Hammock said. “When a young man comes in, there’s depth to the program that he’s going to have to compete against. If he proves that he’s the best guy on a day-to-day basis, then he understands he’s going to get a lot of playing time. I think that’s the best thing we can sell, that the best players are going to play.”

The greatest  gain for Hammock was three-star running back Antario Brown, who was named to First-Team All-State honors during his junior year at Beach High School in Savannah, GA. Brown holds school records in touchdowns and yards in a single game, not to mention a 100-meter dash record of 10.9.

Hammock, a former running back himself, said the key to recruiting a player like Brown was being the first school to build a relationship with him. Brown also had offers from schools including the University of South Carolina, where he was first committed. Brown decommitted from South Carolina in October and ultimately signed to play for the school that recruited him first, NIU.

“What happens, I think, sometimes in recruiting, in the age of social media, one school offers [a scholarship] to you, and then they start to get a bunch of offers,” Hammock said. “That’s not the kind of way we do business. We try to build the relationship first, get to know the kid, see if he’s a good fit from us. When things didn’t work out at South Carolina, he remembered the relationship that we had built with him and established with him in the beginning.”

Georgia produced three new NIU players in total, including cornerback Ty Myles and linebacker Elijah Hamm.

Illinois produced the most of any state with five. Illinois signees include defensive tackle Trevon Jordan, of Sterling, linebacker Brian Whitsey, of Solorio, and a pair of wide receivers in Mason Pierre-Antoine and Trey Urwiler.

Quarterback Ethan Hampton, of Aurora Christian, was chief among signings from NIU’s home state. Hampton, classified as a pro-style quarterback, helped lead Aurora Christian to three straight playoff appearances. Hammock said Hampton comes into the program ahead of the curve thanks to his time calling his own plays.

“The thing about Ethan is he’s extremely focused and dedicated to being a great quarterback,” Hampton said. “He really called the offense on his own multiple times in games. The coach let me know [Hampton] would call the plays and run the offense. It’s special for a young man to be that far ahead in his development.”

Hampton also gets a jump by being among four players enrolled in the upcoming spring semester. Tight end Blake Kosin from Michigan, offensive lineman Pete Nygra from Indiana and Cyrus McGarrell of Ontario, Canada are the others expected to join the program in the coming weeks.

Two players, running back Julius Boldon and cornerback Wetu Kalomo, come from the same school in Kansas. Boldon and Kalomo have been a part of three Class 5A Kansas Championship games during their careers at Wichita Northwest High School.

Both of NIU’s signees from Iowa are offensive lineman. Luke Pinnick from West Marshall High School has been named to the All-State First-Team three times. Drew Hoth, of Cedar Falls, was named to the All-State First-Team this past season, as his school reached the state playoff quarterfinals.

Two cities combined to produce four of NIU’s 12 defensive players signed Wednesday. Cornerback Javaughn Byrd and defensive end Jalonnie Williams both come from Milwaukee, WI, while defensive tackle Cade Haberman and linebacker Makhi Nelson-Douglas were at rivaling schools in Omaha, NE.

The Huskies have even found recruits to sign from well outside the usual beltway of Mid-American Conference schools. Offensive lineman Brandon MacKinnon and defensive end Liam Rempel both played at The Hun School in New Jersey, Hammock’s home state. In the high school football hotbed of Texas, NIU signed linebacker Akanimo Asuquo onto the program.