Rocky Lombardi, Clint Ratkovich join NIU football as transfers

Hammock ‘excited’ for experience and versatility of pair

The+words+%27Play+Like+A+Huskie%22+on+the+front+side+of+Huskie+Stadium%27s+West+bleachers+Oct.+19%2C+at+Huskie+Stadium+in+DeKalb.

Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

The words ‘Play Like A Huskie” on the front side of Huskie Stadium’s West bleachers Oct. 19, at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

James Krause, Senior Reporter

DeKALB — Two new football players have joined NIU via the transfer portal, just in time for the start of offseason workouts.

Junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi and junior running back Clint Ratkovich both enrolled at NIU for the spring semester and participated in team workouts that started this week after the Huskies finished their season winless.

Head Coach Thomas Hammock said the team workouts in the offseason help build a foundation for progress and relationships.

“We want to transform our team, both mentally and physically,” Hammock said. “It’s great to have offseason workouts like this because it helps us bond as a team and really bring us together.”

Lombardi was previously the starting quarterback at Michigan State University. The Clive, IA native started nine games in his three seasons in East Lansing, MI, throwing for 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

In 2020, Lombardi led the Spartans to two wins over ranked-conference opponents, including a three-touchdown performance to beat the 13th-ranked University of Michigan Wolverines and a 75-yard touchdown to help knock off the eighth-ranked Northwestern University Wildcats.

Hammock said Lombardi was a big get for the Huskies because of the experience he has against the high level competition in the Big Ten Conference.

“Anytime you can bring in experience, it’s good, especially from a Power Five conference school like Michigan State,” Hammock said. “He’s athletic, he’s very tough, very physical. We’re excited to see what he can bring to this offense.”

Ratkovich joins NIU from the not-so-distant Western Illinois University, where he was named to the All-Missouri Valley Conference First-Team twice. On 97 collegiate rushing attempts, the Crete native has 429 yards and three touchdowns.

While he plays running back, Ratkovich might be at his most dangerous when lined up as a receiver. Ratkovich has been the Leathernecks leader in receptions the past two seasons, amassing 128 catches for 1,204 yards and 10 touchdowns over his time with WIU.

Hammock describes the superback Ratkovich as a chess piece that can be used in many different ways for his offense.

“What stands out is his versatility,” Hammock said. “Western Illinois used him in a lot of different ways. He’s a great runner, great receiver and great blocker. That allows him to be used in many different formations, and it’s great to have chess pieces you can move around like him.”

The additions to the team come as 13 players confirm they’re exiting NIU via the transfer portal, according to 247Sports. Among those entering the transfer portal are senior defensive tackle Weston Kramer and redshirt junior wide receiver Dennis Robinson.