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NIU kickers prepare to make impact

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(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Northern Illinois junior kicker Mathew Sims (99) celebrates after making a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter of the Huskies’ 31-24 victory against Toledo on Nov. 14 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Northern Illinois punter Ryan Neir isn’t near the top of the national rankings for average punting distance. In fact, he’s 116th out of 199 qualified punters with his 37.8 yards a punt.

But coach Dave Doeren and special teams coordinator Mike Uremovich don’t seem to care one bit. That’s because the Huskies are fifth in the nation in opponents’ return yards a punt, with an average of only 2 yards.

“There’s some punters that are going to punt it 60 yards, and there’s huge potential for a return on that. I’m going to be like 35 to 50 and it’s going to be a very small return,” Neir said. “We’ve faced some really good punt returners, and keeping it away from them and limiting their returns is kind of my style.”

Neir focuses more on directional punting and hang time than long distances. Along with his two kicking counterparts, Tyler Wedel, who handles kickoffs, and Matt Sims, who takes field goals, Neir quietly is putting together a solid year despite what conventional statistics may say.

With an explosive offense, none of the three has put up eye-popping stats, but each kicker has come through in their own way.

Sims has attemped only 15 field goals this season, which ranks 75th in the country, but he’s cashed in going 5 of 7 from 40 to 49 yards this season. The junior made just 3 of 6 from that distance last season, when he was named to the All-Mid-American Conference first team.

Doeren said Sims’ ability to keep a level head through ups and downs during his career, which have been numerous, has led to his success.

“I just like his temperament,” Doeren said. “He’s not too mental. Some kickers are, but he’s pretty steady. He’s done a nice job. Kickers are like golfers to me, he understands his craft and his leg swing.”

Wedel ranks 84th in the nation in kickoff distance, but like Neir, his directional kicking has drawn him praise from coaches. The Huskies rank sixth in the nation in opponents’ kickoff returns.

“He’s improved tremendously. His accuracy is better, his leg strength is better,” Uremovich said. “We’ve got great guys on the unit who love being on the kickoff team.”

With the top kickoff returner in the country – Kent State’s Dri Archer – looming in tonight’s MAC Championship Game along with a high probability of a close score, another strong performance from the trio of kickers might be as important as ever.

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