DeKALB — After NIU’s MAC championship season came to end last year, Rocky Lombardi zeroed in on his offseason project.
The senior quarterback began working with receiver Fabin McCray, hoping to help the sophomore make a leap to help create depth among the team’s pass-catchers.
“He was one of the guys last year who I could see potential in,” Lombardi said. “After the season I came up to him right after our last game, and I was like you’re going to be my offseason project. I’m going to help you get to where you want to be. And he’s worked his tail off. One of the hardest workers, probably the hardest worker in that room.”
McCray has had a strong spring heading into the Huskies’ Spring Showcase at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Not a traditional spring game, the showcase will feature drills, including 11-on-11 with live officials, and start at 10 a.m. at Huskie Stadium.
The Huskies had just three players make more than 40 catches last year, and one of them (Tyrice Richie) is gone. McCray had a career-best two catches last year, but played all 14 games, seeing a lot of time on special teams.
“We’re still working but we’re getting better reach and every day,” McCray said. “I’d say my game has come along pretty well. I’m getting better at route-running.”
Coach Thomas Hammock said McCray’s game has improved across the board this spring.
“He’s really made a jump,” Hammock said. “He’s gotten progressively better every year. But this year it’s starting to come together. He’s trusting his hands. He’s trusting his technique. He’s obviously got the experience of playing in games. I think he wants more of a piece of the pie.”
Hammock said McCray has also worked on the mental aspect of his game as well.
“He’s responded the right way and come back the next play and made the play,” Hammock said. “That was a problem early in his career from a maturity standpoint. Every play is not going to be great, but if you do have a bad play don’t let it beat you twice.”
Trayvon Rudolph (51 catches, 892 yards, seven TDs) and Cole Tucker (41-575-3) both return for the Huskies. But behind them the team has been working on developing depth, and McCray has looked like a part of that so far this spring.
Miles Joiner is also hoping to figure into that added depth. The 6-4, 261 tight end was hurt in the opener against Georgia Tech, missed the next five games, then only started three of the final eight games as he worked his way back healthy.
He said this year he wants to do his part to help the team dominate the run and pass games.
“It’s good getting back in the flow of things,” Joiner said. “I came back late in the fall, we finished the season and won the championship. But this year I’m gearing up for a healthy 12 games and ready to attack it.”
Joiner finished with 16 catches, fourth on the team, for 133 yards and two touchdowns - one of five Huskies to catch a touchdown last year, of whom only three are back.
Lombardi said the whole tight end group has improved this spring, including Liam Soraghan, who made just four catches but was primarily a run blocker. Tristan Tewes had 10 catches for 101 yards last year.
“To have him back adds another element to our pass game,” Lombardi said. “We’ve had improvement there too with Liam Soraghan, who’s been one of our blocking tight ends mostly who’s put in the work this offseason and has gotten way better in route-running and catching ability. He’ll be able to help us as well. So having those two guys along with Tristan Tewes and the rest of them will be awesome.”
Hammock said the end goal is to make sure Lombardi has plenty of weapons by the time the season starts.
“Our quarterback is playing at a high level,” Hammock said. “We want to make sure we can maximize the level he’s playing at with the pieces around him.”