DeKALB – Northern Illinois head football coach Jerry Kill often collectively refers to his players as “the youngsters.”
Two games into the season, the youngest of those youngsters are already making contributions. Six true freshmen contributed in the Huskies’ 41-7 win over Western Illinois at Huskie Stadium Saturday night, but Kill certainly isn’t going to use those youngsters as an excuse for any lesser production.
“We played some young guys and we’ve got a young football team,” Kill said. “That’s not an excuse not to do well either. Hopefully they’re hungry and will continue to get better.”
The most noticeable of the new arrivals Saturday was probably linebacker Devon Butler.
The freshman from Pembroke Pines, Fla., had three tackles, one of which was a big hit on special teams to pin Western at its own 12-yard line on a kickoff.
Two plays later Butler forced a fumble while playing linebacker along side fellow true freshman Tyrone Clark. After Western quarterback Matt Barr completed a 10-yard pass to Lito Senatus, Butler jarred the ball loose and Sean Progar recovered to give NIU possession inside the red zone.
The sequence of plays resulted in an NIU touchdown five plays later to extend the lead to 38-7 early in the fourth quarter, and that’s ultimately what Butler is looking to do whenever he gets a chance to play. He wasn’t thrilled to not see the field in the opener at Wisconsin, but feels he made the most of his time Saturday.
“Last week at Wisconsin I didn’t get a chance to get on the field,” Butler said. “I kind of got upset, not with the coaches, but with myself. Ever since I’ve been playing football I’ve never sat and watched a game from the sideline. That just motivated me to come out this week and play hard.”
Four NIU defenders fresh out of high school made contributions. Aside from Butler, Clark had three tackles and a sack, Naba Jefferson had four tackles playing on the line, and Alan Baxter had two tackles at defensive end.
The two freshmen Kill might be expecting the most out of this year are on the other side of the ball. Martel Moore and Perez Ashford are seeing time as starting wide receivers.
“Both those young men that are playing, Perez and Martel, they’ve just touched the surface of what they can do now,” Kill said. “They’ve got some gear to them and some play-making ability. They’ll get better as they play.
“We’ve got a good group of receivers that are working right now. Again, as you watch college football, we’re going to need them all. But I’m very, very, very please with the production of that group right now and what they’re doing.”
Moore had two catches for 36 yards Saturday, including a 32-yard strike in the third quarter to eventually set up a Mike Salerno field goal to extend the lead to 31-7. It was one of thee plays of 30 yards or more to set up a score for NIU.
“Fast drives are everybody’s key,” Moore said. “If we can keep putting points on the board like that, we’re going to win.”
Ashford caught one ball for eight yards.
None of Kill’s youngsters made huge contributions in Week 1 against Wisconsin, but both Butler and Moore feel as though they’ve started to prove they deserve the chance to do just that as the season wears on.
They also feel like they have the kind of head coach willing to put them on the field if they earn it, and they’ll try to continue earning it this weekend in another non-conference road game at Purdue.
And from Moore’s perspective, the biggest things are yet to come.
“The bigger the game, the bigger I play,” he said.