DeKALB – A heart condition cut short Thomas Hammock’s playing career early in his final season at Northern Illinois, so he never got to participate in senior day.
He said he always wished he got the chance to honor his parents, Lawrence and Scherry, and every time as a coach he participates in a senior day he thinks about that missed opportunity.
But on Saturday, Hammock is heading into the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame, and while he’ll be in the locker room coaching his team up at halftime of the game against Toledo, he hopes his parents finally get the chance to be recognized.
“My senior year, I never had a chance to go through senior day,” said Hammock, in his fourth year as head coach at his alma mater. “That’s always bothered me, 20 years later. My parents never had the opportunity to get honored. I would love my parents to go out there at halftime and get honored for me being in the hall of fame. That’s a big deal. I’ve coached for a long time and been to senior days, and every senior day I’m a part of I think back to when I was a senior and never had a chance to give the rose to my mom or show appreciation to my parents. So I would love for them to go out there at halftime and be recognized.”
In all, 13 new members are entering the hall and will be honored during halftime of the 2:30 p.m. game Saturday against Toledo.
After hearing Hammock talk about his parents at the team’s weekly press conference Tuesday, the school announced Wednesday that both Hammock’s father and grandmother, Sadie Johnson, will be on the field representing the coach.
Hammock had 1,000-yards rushing as a sophomore in 2000 and against the next year as a junior. In the season opener of his senior season, Hammock ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime victory against Wake Forest, but he missed the final 11 games of his senior year because of a heart condition.
Hammock said he may not have been the best player but feels he was a top-notch compeitior. He said he remembers playing Toledo in his sophomore season. The Rockets had future NFL Pro Bowler Chester Taylor in the backfield at the time.
He remembers keeping up with Taylor until he was injured in the second half of the game.
“I can remember my sophomore year playing Toledo, and they had Chester Taylor,” Hammock said. “I remember Matt Canada was my position coach that year, and he said ‘I want you to be the best running back on the field.’ For the first half I think he had about 130 yards, I had about 110, maybe 115. Then early in the third quarter I broke my ankle. But I remember those types of feelings of trying to... ‘Hey they have Chester Taylor, I want to be the best running back today.’
Hammock said that was the first game his girlfriend at the time and now wife, Cheynnitha, saw him play.
“Obviously, that was a fond memory, breaking my ankle was not,” Hammock said. “But that was the first game my wife now, my girlfriend at the time, ever saw me play. She thought I was trying to put on a show for her. Maybe I was. I think it worked out.”