DeKALB – After Nate Palmer feasted on the Minnesota defense to the tune of 170 receiving yards and two touchdowns to open last season, he admittedly lost his hunger and his focus.
The Northern Illinois wide receiver's work ethic slipped. He didn't adjust to what defenses threw at him and, after suffering a leg injury late in the season, he essentially disappeared.
What Palmer, now a red-shirt sophomore, wants people to remember is that he is capable of producing at a consistently high level, and that 19 years old is one heck of a time to be told you're the next big thing on a Division I football team.
"I wasn't really prepared for the distractions that came with it," Palmer said at the team's DeKalb media day Friday. "It's fun to see yourself all over the Web site and everything like that. But then me being only 19 at the time it's like, 'Wow, this is really crazy.'
"Then your friends call you and tell you, 'You're the man' and stuff like that. For me, I wasn't as humble as I should have been. And it got to where I didn't work as hard. I wasn't as hungry."
By the time he reached the Independence Bowl, where he collected 12 yards on a reverse, his season had hit bottom.
Before Palmer even arrived at NIU, he talked with friend and now-former wideout Marcus Perez about how Palmer would be on the field and playing a large role in Perez's last game. Palmer was part of a handful of plays in his friend's final game and that was it.
"So that kind of hurt a little bit and it was like, 'Man, now I've really got to get on it,'" Palmer said. "I don't like sitting out. When you go from your first game to pretty much nothing, it's kind of like, 'What happened to you?' "
From then on, Palmer said he's rededicated himself to football. He put on eight pounds in the offseason, worked with quarterback Chandler Harnish on their timing and said he's reclaimed his hunger to show what he can do on the field for a full season.
That's why he was happy to see a picture of a T-Bone steak hanging in the wide receivers room when camp started.
Wide receivers coach P.J. Fleck put it there and said he got the idea for the picture from linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz. As part of a daily motivation technique, Fleck said he'll have the "T-Bone player of the day" after every practice.
"He said, 'I could eat a big raw steak right now,' about two days before camp," Fleck said. "So I basically ran with it. A hungry dog is a dangerous dog. And we've got a lot of young players in our room."
The Huskies signed four freshmen wide receivers in this year's recruiting class and lost four of their top six wideouts from last season, so the position is as wide-open as any for this season.
Palmer hopes he can earn back the starting spot he had for three games in 2008. His steps in the offseason put him in a good position to do that, and even earned him a prominent spot in the "Swallow the frog" TV commercial for the team.
"A lot of it we came up with on the fly," Palmer said. "Most of it was scripted but most of us did certain things to add to the joke of the commercial."
It was nice to be a part of the team like that again, and might serve as a marker for Palmer's return to being a threat on the field.
"Nate looks different then he did last year," Fleck said. "Nate's grown up. That's not to say he is where he needs to be just yet, but he's taken so many strides in the positive direction."