Signing Day: NIU’s late recruiting class focuses on out-of-state prospects

Of 9 announced signees, only 2 from Illinois

Northern Illinois University’s head coach Thomas Hammock looks on late in the game on Saturday Sep. 23, 2023, while taking on Tulsa University in DeKalb.

The NIU football team announced its late signing class Wednesday, with nine additions to the 20 announced in December and the six players added through the transfer portal announced in January.

Only two of Wednesday’s group are from Illinois. There’s 6-5, 230-pound tight end Jason Fowler from Niles West and 6-3, 250-pound defensive end Tanner Phelps from Greenfield. There were two players from a single high school in Iowa; running back Elijah Porter and tight end Chase Schutty hail from Centennial in Ankeny.

Of the 28 high school players announced between the two signing periods – one addition in December was a junior college transfer – eight are from Illinois. It’s still the most players from any state, ahead of the five Wisconsin and Georgia players.

The Huskies added two running backs into the mix. Porter (5-11, 170) and Melo Ware, a 5-9, 183-pound back from Orlando, join December additions Telly Johnson Jr. and Ahmir Smith.

Coach Thomas Hammock said he was excited to see how Ware can impact the team. He ran for 1,505 yards as a senior last year on 165 carries with 21 touchdowns. He ran for more than 5,000 yards in his high school career.

“We are excited about the addition of Romelo Ware, a big-time playmaker at the running back position,” Hammock said. “He comes from a great family. His dad played at Pitt and in the NFL and, along with the two backs we signed in December, will be a great addition to our running back room.”

The running backs join Antonio Brown and Gavin Williams, who got most of the team’s carries last year, plus redshirt freshman Jaylen Poe, who cracked through for some playing time during the season. Justin Lynch still is listed as a running back, although he primarily played as a Wildcat-style quarterback. Redshirt freshmen Garrett Gensler and Joshua Pridgen still are on the roster.

There were no QBs announced among the group after two were announced in December, including JUCO transfer Kenny Leuth. With Rocky Lombardi graduating after starting for three years, there will be a new starter this year. Ethan Hampton, Lombardi’s backup, is expected back this season, as is Nevan Cremascoli, who started in 2022 when Hampton and Lombardi both missed time with injuries. There are six quarterbacks on a spring roster that does not include the three high school signees nor Lynch.

The Huskies’ February additions to date include eight who will join the team as walk-ons, although, as Hammock noted, NIU’s current roster includes 28 players who came to the school as walk-ons and have since earned scholarships.

The school did not indicate which players were walk-ons.

“At this time of year, we are looking to add guys with tremendous character, work ethic and athletic ability that fit our program,” Hammock said. “We’ve made great strides in our program with walk-ons with 28 current scholarship players that started as walk-ons. We’re excited about this group that decided to join our program and will be adding more names to this list as they go through the process.”

Spring practices have not been announced yet but should start in mid-to-late March. The 2024 season begins Aug. 31 at home against Western Illinois.

NamePositionHeight/WeightHometown/school
Jason FowlerTE6-5/230Morton Grove (Niles West)
Logan GrossOL6-3/265Sun Prairie, Wisconsin (Sun Prairie East)
Jamari McIvoryWR6-1/170Savannah, Georgia (Savannah Christian Prep)
Elijah PorterRB5-11/170Ankeny, Iowa (Ankeny Centennial)
Chase SchuttyTE6-5/220Ankeny, Iowa (Ankeny Centennial)
Joshua TillmanS6-3/185West Bloomfield, Michigan (West Bloomfield)
CJ WadeDE6-3/215Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Prairie)
Melo WareRB5-9/183Orlando, Florida (Olympia)
Tanner PhelpsDT6-3/250Crystal Lake (Greenfield)
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