The 9 a.m. workout in front of . . .
“It’s been a good few weeks of spring,” said NIU head coach Thomas Hammock. “We’re progressing. Our defense is really, really stout, our offense has done a good job improving every day and competing and trying to match the intensity of the defense.”
Highlights of the situational drills included tight end Daniel Crawford snagging a touchdown pass from quarterback Anthony Thompson, and junior wide receiver Tyrice Richie scoring on a 25-yard pass from Thompson as well. Marcus Childers hit Spencer Tears on a 60-yard touchdown pass in 7-on-7 drills.
On the defensive side, linebacker Joseph Bonds recorded an interception for the only turnover of the day for that unit.
“Both quarterbacks did a nice job pushing the ball down the field today,” Hammock said. “The guys have to complete the catch. They had opportunities. You’ve got to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Overall, the offense enjoyed one of its best scrimmage days of the spring. Driving down the field for a touchdown on its first possession behind the running of Rahveon Valentine. Childers hit Richie for a four-yard touchdown pass to close out the drive.
The offense managed several other sustained drives during the scrimmage. Valentine and sophomore Jordan Rowell got the bulk of the work at running back during the scrimmage and were able to find holes and consistently move the chains.
“Today, it was good to see the offense make some plays, have some sustained drives down the field,” Hammock said. “The other day the defense got after us pretty good, and I think our offense responded today with a solid performance. We’re certainly excited about the backfield and getting those guys a chance to make big plays in space.”
While the offense shined Saturday, the defense has been impressive all through Hammock’s first spring with the Huskies. An old high school teammate of Hammock’s who has worked his way up the coaching ranks, Jordan Gigli, is responsible for coaching the Huskies’ first line of defense.
Gigli, who comes to NIU after spending the previous five seasons as defensive line coach at North Dakota, takes over a talented and experienced NIU defensive line that features three returning defensive tackles from last season, which has made his transition very smooth. His message to his group has been simple.
“The message has been, we’re good, but we’ve got to get to great,”Gigli. “How do we go from good to great? The only way I know is old-fashioned hard work to fundamentals, playing aggressive every play. That’s what we’ve been preaching.
“As cliché as it may sound, you’re putting in those fundamentals and that work every play and it’s showing up on the field. The guys have had success this spring and our young guys are taking a lot of reps and learning from the older guys.”
One of those returners is defensive tackle Jack Heflin, who tallied 38 tackles in 14 games. Heflin, who started the final five games for NIU, has appreciated what Gigli has brought to his game this spring.
“Coach Gigli has really brought a lot to my run-stopping game,” Jack Heflin said. “I always thought I was a pretty good run stopper, but he brought my hips into the equation. I’m more explosive off the ball. I got stronger with my hands and my punch, get more knock off. I always struggle with having wide hands and we do a drill every day and my hands are tight.
“In the pass game, he’s teaching me about the transition, and pass rush. He’s done a good job of teaching me when it’s pass and ripping off, and being able to read the backs presnap.”
While Gigli has pushed his charges this spring, he feels they’ve pushed him to be a better coach.
“It’s a challenge when you’re taking over a group that’s played a lot of football, that understands football,” Gigli said. “They challenge me every day to bring my A-game, the same way I’m challenging them. Honestly, it’s been exciting and I’ve learned as much from them as they’ve hopefully learned from me.”
(Courtesy of NIU Athletics)