DeKALB – Last season, NIU rolled out the same offensive line for all 14 games, save for against Ball State when J.J. Champe was hurt.
Four of those starters are back this year. And stepping into the middle to replace Brayden Patton is freshman Pete Nygra.
So with Lippe and Marques Cox on one side, and Logan Zschernitz and Nolan Potter on the other, Nygra said his adjustment has been a smooth one.
“It’s been really easy, honestly,” Nygra said. “The other linemen have brought me in and helped me along the way more than anything. Nolan Potter, Logan, J.J., Marcus – they’ve been a tremendous help to me just to kind of integrate me into the starting five. They’ve really helped and really made it easy along the way.”
Nygra was an early enrollee with the Huskies, coming on board in the spring before last season. He spent the time learning from Patton, who is playing in the USFL for the Pittsburgh Maulers, having started five of 10 games.
“All he’s done is put his head down and work,” offensive line coach Darryl Agpalsa said. “He’s doing a great job of getting our spot and getting our keys correct in run games and protections. He’s getting better technically, continuing to work on that. But he’s doing a great job.”
NIU had the fourth-best rushing offense in the country last year, averaging 241.4 yards per game. The Huskies also allowed only 11 sacks, tied for second fewest in the country with Air Force behind only Army.
Nygra said the line has a pride and a passion for the sometimes thankless job of blocking for a loaded running back group and protecting quarterback Rocky Lombardi.
“We know we have to show up every single day for this team and this offense to have success,” Nygra said. “We have pride when we run the ball and protect Rocky and just have the offense work. It’s not a glory position. You do the dirty work and help your team win.”
Head coach Thomas Hammock said he felt that Nygra entered the program out of Brownsburg in North Indianapolis, Indiana, ready to compete.
“We felt like if need be last year he would have been ready to play,” Hammock said. “For us to have the ability to redshirt him means we’ve got an extra year with him in the program. He was ready last year. Brayden stayed healthy all last year, so it was a luxury to be able to save his redshirt.”
Hammock said Nygra is a tough, smart and dependable addition to the starting group this year.
“Pete’s been a stud,” Hammock said. “He’s a young guy that came in early. He’s one of our strongest offensive linemen. He’s been a tremendous worker since the moment he came on campus. He’s a leader, comes from a great high school program. We have no reservations about Pete being our center, and we won’t miss a beat with Pete Nygra in the middle.”
Nygra still got practice time last year, mostly with the backups, but Agpalsa said occasionally he’d work out with the first group.
“This year it wasn’t ‘brand new’ brand new,” Agpalsa said. “Obviously the volume with that group is different. But he’s done a great job.”
Nygra said he’s ready to shift from learning to doing.
“Brayden was awesome. He helped me a lot,” Nygra said. “He helped me a lot last year along the way. He started to bring me into the ropes. Last year, I had to learn. This year, I have to do it.”