NIU announces former Michigan State QB Rocky Lombardi transfers to program

School also confirms QB Ross Bowers won’t use extra year of eligibility

Graduate transfers Rocky Lombardi and Clint Ratkovich have joined the Northern Illinois University football program, while four 2021 freshman signees also are on campus for the 2021 spring semester, NIU coach Thomas Hammock announced Wednesday.

Lombardi made the announcement Dec. 27, but the school made it official with a statement Wednesday.

“We’re certainly excited about Rocky and what he brings to the quarterback room from a leadership perspective and from a competitive perspective,” said Hammock, who also noted Lombardi’s background as a prep wrestler in Iowa. “Playing in the Big Ten has given him a level of experience that is needed in our young quarterback room. We embrace competition on this team, and he’s looking forward to having the opportunity to compete beginning this spring.”

A spokesperson for the team said that the Huskies’ starting quarterback from last year, Ross Bowers, elected not to use his extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA.

Lombardi, a junior quarterback from Clive, Iowa (Valley HS), was a three-year letterwinner at Michigan State who started nine games for the Spartans over the past three seasons and led MSU to wins over No. 13 Michigan and No. 8 Northwestern in 2020.

He threw for 1,090 yards on 84 completions in 2020 and had more than 2,000 yards of total offense during his MSU career. He was named the Manning Award National Quarterback of the Week for his 2020 performance against Michigan (Oct. 31) when he completed 17 of 32 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns. He completed six passes of 50 or more yards in 2020, including a 75-yard touchdown pass against Northwestern, when he also rushed for 65 yards on 10 carries.

Ratkovich was named to the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference first team in 2018 and 2019 for Western Illinois, where he made a name for himself as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield. He caught 128 passes for 1,204 yards and 10 touchdowns for WIU, which did not compete this fall. On the ground, he averaged 4.4 yards a carry on 97 attempts during his career while playing in 35 games.

The Crete-Monee graduate accumulated 1,866 yards at WIU.

“Clint is an interesting chess piece to add to our offense,” Hammock said. “He described himself as a ‘superback,’ and I made a comparison to [current 49ers fullback] Kyle Juszczyk when we had him with the [Baltimore] Ravens. He brings skills as a runner and as a receiver that will bring more versatility to our offense.”

Lombardi and Ratkovich will enter NIU as juniors in 2021 and, as graduate transfers, are eligible to play immediately.

In addition to the two transfers, four freshmen who signed in December are enrolled at NIU for the spring semester. Quarterback Ethan Hampton (Elburn/Aurora Christian HS), tight end Blake Kosin (Davisburg, Mich./Clarkston HS), cornerback Cyrus McGarrell (Windsor, Ontario, Canada/Clearwater Academy International) and offensive lineman Pete Nygra (North Indianapolis, Ind./Brownsburg HS) will take part in conditioning and spring football this year.

“It’s always good to have mid-year high school guys come in to get their first taste of college football,” Hammock said. “We’ve had great success with midyear guys having the opportunity to play. This group will be able to go through spring ball and also are in classes and we’re happy to have them with us.”

The Huskies will open 2021 spring football practices in March with specific dates and a complete spring roster available in February.

Eddie Carifio

Has been the sports editor in DeKalb since 2014.