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DeKALB – The humor came from a good place.
Northern Illinois linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz doesn’t miss an opportunity to joke. Linebackers, safeties, quarterbacks, everyone is fair game. So after receiver DeMarcus Grady stood out at NIU’s first fall scrimmage – and with Matukewicz walking by – something was going to be said.
“Hey, you catch one ball and all of a sudden you’re getting interviewed,” Matukewicz told Grady, with laughs to go around.
It was a harmless moment, said in passing. It was even an understatement.
Grady caught two touchdown passes Sunday, one for 41 yards and the other for 30.
But whether intentional or not, the statement was laced with reality. Grady hasn’t looked the same in practice as he did during the scrimmage. Seeing what the senior is capable of, NIU coach Dave Doeren wants more.
“He shows up when it’s live,” Doeren said. “He needs to be a better practice player, to be honest with you. Even going back to last spring, he really does play well when it’s live. So part of his progression is being an every day, every down practice player.
“Not that he’s bad in practice, but he’s a lot better on game day.”
Doeren wasn’t questioning Grady’s focus. He’s pleased with the effort. He knows improvements were made since spring, when the former quarterback looked lost at times battling cornerbacks.
Grady didn’t have a summer offseason. There was too much work to do. One day he’d practice turning his hips and perfecting his footwork with fellow receiver Nathan Palmer. The next he would be with Willie Clark, refining his body control and route running.
He even spent time with former NIU receiver Landon Cox, now with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I worked every day,” Grady said. “I did something every day, whether it was a lot or a little, as long as I did something. I’m pretty pleased with where I’m at, but I know I can improve a lot more.”
Grady said his experienced teammates tell him he’s improved from the spring.
“We’ll sit in meeting rooms all the time, and the guys will always joke with me, ‘You look like a receiver now,’ “ Grady said. “In the spring, they said I was pretty stiff, and I wasn’t as fluent. But now I’m getting a lot of compliments from other wideouts that I’m running like a receiver, so that’s good.”
But at a position where consistency means everything, the next step in Grady’s transition from passing to catching is playing the same each rep.
“I think it’s just the transition from being a quarterback to receiver and understanding the tempo that you’ve got to play with to earn repetitions,” Doeren said. “He know show to play on game day, there’s no doubt. I just think the practice at quarterback is different. Wideouts are running the entire time, so the conditioning aspect of it is a lot different.”