DeKALB – Northern Illinois fans are familiar with Akeem Daniels, the senior who led all Huskie tailbacks with 447 rushing yards last season.
However, the NIU coaching staff is confident in a number of backs.
Keith Harris Jr. played in nine games as a true freshman, and Cameron Sting-ily has been in the program three years and is starting to come into his own as a running back after playing his first two seasons at linebacker. Junior Giorgio Bowers carried the ball just 12 times a year ago, but he averaged 5.3 yards a carry.
All four backs could see time in the Huskies’ rotation this year.
“We’ll probably rotate three guys in. Three, four, somewhere in there and probably not miss a beat,” NIU offensive coordinator Bob Cole said. “Everybody does a little something different. It’s a good group back there.”
Daniels hasn’t practiced during fall camp while recovering from a foot injury, but he should be a factor in the running game soon. Should NIU decide to play a true freshman, Joel Bouagnon and Jordan Huff could also be options, as both have gotten reps with the second team, though Huff has been out with a leg injury the past few days.
Even without Daniels at the moment, Cole is confident in his offense’s depth at the tailback position.
“Gives us three solid guys right there to put in the game,” Cole said of Stingily, Harris and Bowers. “We’re feeling pretty good about where we are at tailback right now.”
Harris started with a bang last season, scoring a 7-yard touchdown in his first game against Iowa. He’s been limited in practice while recovering from an ankle injury – he missed the final four games of last season and didn’t practice during the spring. He’ll be ready to go for Iowa, and is a more well-rounded player as a true sophomore.
“The game is more slow. Everything’s easier for me this year,” Harris said. “So now I can just pay attention to the key things instead of learning the whole offense.”
Harris has a year in the offense, and his blocking has improved. When he was being recruited out of Leo High School in Chicago, Harris realized that in NIU’s offense, tailbacks need to be able to do a number of things.
NIU coach Rod Carey feels like every back he has is versatile.
“That’s our offense,” he said. “They have to block, catch passes and run the football. So that’s our expectations there.”