DeKALB – Billy Dozier comes from a long line of running backs, but when he got to Northern Illinois University in 2020 the Huskies moved him to wide receiver.
After one spring returning to the backfield, the move to his natural home at running back might be permanent.
Dozier capped his spring, spent mostly at running back, with a breakout performance at NIU’s Spring Showcase on Saturday. He broke two runs of more than 60 yards, including one of more than 90 that went for a touchdown.
“He’s had a tremendous spring,” fourth-year coach Thomas Hammock said. “He played running back, that’s his most natural position. His dad came up to me a couple weeks ago and said ‘I played back, his grandfather played running back, I think he’s a running back.’ And obviously today he showed what he can do and a dimension he adds to our offense.”
Dozier said he feels much more comfortable at running back. At Lincoln Way-West, he was a hybrid receiver-running back after playing RB throughout his youth.
Dozier has appeared in all 20 of the games the Huskies have played during his career, earning a start in the Cure Bowl for the first time. He has two catches for four yards in his career, plus six special teams tackles.
“At first in spring I was just filling in the position because we were injured and stuff like that,” Dozier said. “But I felt comfortable back there, I was making plays, so they feel like I have to stay in the running back room, which is no problem for me.”
Hammock said throughout the spring that he was erring on the side of caution with running backs Mason Blakemore, Antario Brown and Harrison Waylee. Waylee spent a big chunk of the spring in a non-contact jersey, while Brown and Blakemore both missed extended periods.
Blakemore was a full participant Saturday, while Waylee was still in his non-contact jersey but taking snaps.
But it was Dozier who made the big plays in the showcase, the final spring practice in front of about 1,000 fans using live referees for the 7-on-7 and full-team drills.
“I’m not going to lie, it feels great,” Dozier said. “Being in the receiver room, it’s a lot more spread out. I feel like I have a bigger role in the running back room. It feels good to be out there a lot more just getting the ball in my hands and seeing what I can do with it.”
Hammock said he’s not sure what Dozier’s exact role will look like in the fall, although he said it will be in the backfield if running back coach Nic McKissic-Luke has a vote.
“I know our running back coach is fighting for him to stay in his room,” Hammock said. “We’re going to have a role for him. We think he can do multiple things. We think he can still play receiver. He has some versatility. We’re going to use him as a chess piece in our offense and do a lot of things with him to help our offense get more explosive.”
Hammock and the coaching staff use a scoring system to determine a winner of each practice between the offense and defense. The two units were tied heading into Saturday. Hammock said he’d have to watch film to determine the winner and did not want to make any guesses, although Dozier said he felt the offense won.
“I would say offense dominated a lot during the spring,” Dozier said. “Defense kinda fought back, but I think we ended the spring pretty good overall. ... We definitely got the win today. Defense will say they did but check the score. I think we won.”
Defensive end Ray Thomas, who recovered a Waylee fumble – the only turnover of the day – said he felt the defense won.
“We made plays,” Thomas said. “They made plays also, but we came out with more energy than they did, and that’s how you play great defense – energy feeding off one another.”
He said forcing turnovers like his fumble recovery are instrumental moving forward.
“Getting fumble recoveries, making picks and everything, that just shows our defense when we all play together, each person does their 1/11th, it shows up in big ways,” Thomas said.