Q&A with Clint Ratkovich, NIU Football’s new offensive weapon


Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

Huskie Stadium Aug. 12, from the East entrance.

By James Krause

DETROIT — Redshirt senior running back Clint Ratkovich has already made a large impression on NIU since transferring from Western Illinois University. 

Ratkovich was twice named to the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference First-Team and averaged 53.3 yards from scrimmage over the course of three seasons with the Leathernecks. 

The Louisville Sports Commission has named him to the 2021 Paul Hornung Award Watch List, an award given to the most “versatile” playing in FBS football. The versatility is what drew Head Coach Thomas Hammock to bring on Ratkovich during the offseason.

“What stands out is his versatility,” Hammock said in a Jan. 16 Northern Star article. “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.”

Ratkovich represented NIU at the Mid-American Conference Media Day on July 20 in Detroit and spoke to the Northern Star for a Q&A.

Q: I read somewhere that NIU was one of the first schools to reach out to you when you opened your recruiting. What about their pitch stuck with you and made you want to come here?

Ratkovich: “It was just how heart-to-heart they were. Coach (Tony) Sorrentino was the first one to call me. He gave me a really good pitch, I loved everything he said, and he was true to his word. A few days after that, I got to talk to Coach Hammock and it was the same thing. I knew right then and there that’s where I want to be.”

Q: You’re an engineering technology graduate. What drew you to that major, and what do you hope to do with that degree?

Ratkovich: “Back in high school, we had this program called ‘Project Lead The Way,’ and it was some intro to engineering classes. It was really one of the only things that grabbed my attention back in school. I was pretty smart, got some good grades but wasn’t really interested in anything until that hit. I followed it and went through it in college. Hope I can do something in manufacturing with it, maybe product or process control.”

Q: From the time you’ve spent in DeKalb, what have you liked most about it? Where do you find yourself gravitating to while in DeKalb?

Ratkovich: “We’ve gone golfing a lot at Buena Vista and River Heights. I room with Braydon (Patton) and Rocky (Lombardi), and we always try to find a way to hit up the golf course. Compared to Western, it’s actually a huge town. Lots of things to do, lots of places to eat, so I’m always out and about.”

Q: What’s something when you’re in DeKalb that makes you miss Crete?

Ratkovich: “The open field I had in the back of my house. My grandfather had a lot of land and we all kind of built on the same street. We had a nice little place with the whole family with a lot of room in the back. We used to ride dirt bikes, four-wheelers. I can’t do that too much in a college town. That’s probably what I miss.”

Q: I saw an interview with your quarterback at WIU, Connor Sampson, that said you were so athletic and basically you could pick up any sport you could put your hands on. If I told you tomorrow that you could play any sport you want except football, what sport would you go with?

Ratkovich: “Would I have to be good at it?”

Q: Well, what sport do you think you’d be best at?

Ratkovich: “I thought about it, and I’m not that good at ice skating, but if I picked it up earlier, I would definitely want to be a hockey player if football was not an option.”

Q: I thought you were about to say you’d become an ice skater, which would have been totally out of left field for a football player in my mind.

Ratkovich: “No, no. It would have to be hockey. If I had learned to skate earlier, that’s what I probably would do.”

Q: Have you picked up a sport that you weren’t good at?

Ratkovich: “Golf is a struggle. I golf a lot, but it’s always hit or miss, and it’s hard to be consistent. One day you can shoot really well; one day you can be really bad.”

Q: The big question about the NIL stuff is ‘What will this do for the smaller schools?’ You’re one of the few athletes from NIU that has joined Barstool Athletics. What all inspired you to do that, and what does it entail?

Ratkovich: “It was a big trend. A lot of student-athletes hopped on the Barstool bandwagon. I’m still waiting for full approval, they sent me confirmation, but I’m still waiting on the whole process to be done. NIL is interesting. I haven’t reached out to too many companies because it’s still all new, and I don’t want to do anything wrong. I think it’s going to be eye-opening and it’ll help a lot of people, including local businesses. It’s going to be fun to see in the next few years how this develops.”

Q: You came in with a reputation, from your career at WIU, of being able to do anything in an offense. The fullback label feels like a formality. Do you have an area, rushing or receiving, where you feel more comfortable or you enjoy the most?

Ratkovich: “In the past, it was definitely catching the ball. I was used a lot more in the passing game than the rushing game in the past. Recently, I think I’ve become a lot more comfortable running the football.”

Q: From the time you’ve spent with this program, where do you see yourself fitting into this offense?

Ratkovich: “In other parts of the game outside of running the ball. We got young backs that are really good, such as Harrison Waylee, Erin Collins, Jevyon Ducker. When they’re in the game, I can be somewhere else helping out. When they need a blow, maybe that’s where I can get reps at the true running back position, and it can work vice versa.”

Q: Generally for 2021, what are some of the goals you have as an individual, be it in football or off the field?

Ratkovich: “Individually, I want to be the best all-around player in the MAC. It’s tough to do a lot of things well, but it’s really tough to do a lot of things great. It’s one thing to play all these positions and be mediocre, but that doesn’t help the team. I want to refine my skills in all those areas that I play well.”