DeKALB — In his first tweet following his team handling Akron 49-0 Saturday, Head Coach Thomas Hammock captioned a video of first-year linebacker Nick Rattin's interception return touchdown.
Rattin and redshirt sophomore Vinny Labus have taken starting jobs after multiple injuries to starters and the suspension of junior linebacker Jordan Cole.
Rattin tied with sophomore cornerback Devin Haney for a team-high five tackles, while also returning an interception for a 31 yard touchdown in the late stages of the Huskies' win over the Zips.
Labus, a former linebacker at Maine South High School who entered the game with sacks in back-to-back games, had three tackles and a tackle for a loss against Akron.
Hammock said after the game that the linebacker duo is proof that walk-on players can be difference makers in games if they dedicate themselves.
"They feel more comfortable," Hammock said. "You talk about two guys walking onto this program and had confidence in this program. With Rattin being a first-year, we're still recruiting walk-ons and saying 'Hey, we have a guy starting for us as a walk-on.' At some point in time he's going to earn a scholarship from us."
Rattin is familiar with defending against the pass, having played safety while attending Fremd High School in Palatine. Rattin said he wants to reap even more rewards for his hard work.
"It was nice, but we just got to keep trusting the process and keep trusting the coaches," Rattin said in the post-game press conference. "Got to keep going."
The shutout by the Huskies defense is its first since a 63-0 win over the University of Massachusetts in Nov. 2012. Akron left DeKalb scoreless in ten straight quarters and without a touchdown in 13 straight quarters.
NIU hopes the defense shows out again this Saturday when it travels to Mount Pleasant to face the Central Michigan Chippewas. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. live on the CBS Sports Network.