DeKALB – Northern Illinois football coach Thomas Hammock introduced 18 new players Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA early signing period for football.
Three of the new announcements were JUCO transfers and the other 15 were soon-to-be high school graduates. Ten of the players will report to NIU early in time for spring practices, Hammock said.
Below are five takeaways from Hammock’s press conference about the new players.
Despite a plurality of Georgians, Illinois, midwest still the focus
The Huskies announced four players from Georgia, more than any other state, including the three from Illinois. And it’s nothing new, with current impact players Devin Lafayette and Antario Brown hailing from the Peach State.
But Hammock said despite that number, Illinois still is the centerpiece of recruiting, and that will become obvious during the second signing period.
“The majority of our recruiting is going to start in the midwest, particularly Illinois,” Hammock said. “I think we’ve done well there and we will continue to do so. But then we tried to supplement a few skill positions from a little further. ... Really, the most recruits are from Illinois when you add the guys that will be walking on our program.”
A modern system for roster cronstruction
Hammock said with the early signing period and the transfer portal, the landscape of roster building is completely different now than in the past. He said there are pretty much four distinct periods – the early signing, announcing portal transfers when classes start in January, the late signing period in February and roster touch-up through the portal after the spring.
Hammock said his program is set to announce six players coming on board through the portal next month, and he’s also excited for the collection of walk-ons and other signings he’s set to announce in February.
“There’s a lot more ways to construct your roster,” Hammock said. “This is basically just the first phase for us. We couldn’t be more excited about how we’ve been able to add to our football team.”
He also said eight current walk-ons will be going on scholarship in January.
Hammock happy with current wide receiver groups
Among the 18 signings, only one was a wide receiver – Marian Catholic’s Kyle Thomas.
Both Trayvon Rudolph and promising freshman Jalen Johnson missed all of last year with injuries, and getting them back should help. And Hammock said he likes the other young receivers in the program, plus hinted that there could be a portal addition at the position as well.
“You get Trayvon Rudolph back, that helps,” Hammock said. “We have some really talented wide receivers that are being developed, and we have a receiver that will be here in January. We feel good about the wide receiver position, and we feel real good about the young wide receivers in the program that are being developed.”
Running backs that are plug-and-play
One of the three JUCO players added to the roster was Azhaun Dingle, coming in from Butler Community College in Kansas. Hammock said he had 61 carries in his final two games and is a workhorse.
With the offensive line mostly coming back – Marques Cox left via the portal but the rest of the starters are expected back – Hammock said that the O-line biggest piece to ground success, even with three of NIU’s top four running backs gone through the portal.
“With the line we have in place, guys can come in here and have a chance to contribute,” Hammock said. “That’s important. Our offensive line leads the way for our offense. With the line we have, you can bring guys in here who can be plug-and-play-type players along with the guys we have in the program already.”
Focus on the four developmental groups
Hammock said the focus of this phase was what he called the developmental groups – offensive lineman, linebacker, tight end and quarterback. He said those positions take the longest to develop in-house.
Hammock said play-making tight ends were a priority as three came on board Wednesday, including Bryce Harrison, who Hammock said is the nephew of Shaquille O’Neal.
|Santana Banner||DB||6-3, 183||Flint, Michigan (Mountain View, Georgia)|
|Grayson Barnes||TE||6-5, 215||Rocklin, California (American River CC)|
|Phillip Baynes||LB||6-2, 195||Social Circle, Georgia (Social Circle)|
|Azhuan Dingle||RB||6-2, 226||Jersey City, New Jersey (Butler CC)|
|Zach Gordon||K||6-0, 160||Lillington, North Carolina (Rosewood)|
|Bryce Harrison||TE||6-5, 235||Apopka, Florida (Apopka)|
|Mark Hensley||DL||6-4, 265||Labadie, Missouri (Washington)|
|Michael Jimmar||OL||6-5, 285||Plainfield (East)|
|Mason Kidd||QB||6-3, 194||Lawrenceville, Georgia (Mountain View)|
|Thomas Paasch||OL||6-5, 285||Green Bay, Wisconsin (Southwest)|
|Jaylen Poe||RB||5-11, 210||Dallas, Georgia (North Paulding)|
|ReSean Randall||DL||6-5, 218||Detroit, Michigan (Cass Tech)|
|Mahki Rolle||DB||6-2, 185||North Miami Beach, Florida (North Miami Beach)|
|Neveah Sanders||DL||6-4, 220||Flint, Michigan (Iowa Western CC)|
|Luke Skartvedt||OL||6-3, 300||Indianapolis (Roncalli)|
|Jay’shon Thomas||TE||6-4, 220||Cataula, Georgia (Harris County)|
|Kyle Thomas||WR||6-3, 175||Richton (Marian Catholic)|
|Jacob Welch||OL||6-6, 300||Johnsburg (Johnsburg)|