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NIU freshmen step up in backfield

Published: Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
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Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com Offensive lineman Ryan Brown hugs running back Joel Bouagnon after scoring a touch down in the first quarter against Eastern Michigan University on Saturday, October 26, 2013. The Huskies won 59-20.

DeKALB – For the first five games of the season, Joel Bouagnon was going through the typical year of a true freshman who the coaching staff was planning to redshirt.

He didn’t dress for home games, instead wearing an NIU road white jersey with no pads, and didn’t travel.

Fast forward to now, and a lot has changed for Bouagnon (pronounced Bwon-NYO), an Aurora Christian product. He dressed for the Huskies’ game against Akron on Oct. 12, and traveled Oct. 19 to Central Michigan.

When the Huskies took on Eastern Michigan last week, Bouagnon’s redshirt was pulled, and he spent a lot of time in NIU’s backfield, carrying the ball 10 times for 35 yards and catching a 10-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Lynch.

“It was a good experience for me,” Bouagnon said. “I liked making plays for my team.”

Fellow true freshman Draco Smith came to DeKalb as a defensive back and played corner the whole summer, but he was moved to running back the week before the season opener against Iowa to provide depth.

“They asked me if I wanted to stay at corner or help the team out,” Smith said. “So I decided to help the team out.”

Smith has plenty of experience in the backfield, as he played running back at Chicago’s Mt. Carmel High School. He didn’t have any offers to play tailback in college, but said that was because he committed early, giving his verbal commitment to NIU in July 2012.

With NIU having some depth issues at tailback, it has forced both Smith and Bouagnon to lose their redshirts.

Senior Akeem Daniels hasn’t even practiced yet, as he’s still recovering from offseason foot surgery. Keith Harris Jr. suffered an ankle injury at Kent State, and will miss the rest of the year after having surgery, while Giorgio Bowers left the team before the Purdue game.

Starter Cameron Stingily, who has been a nice surprise this year after only having one carry in 2012, missed the Eastern Michigan game because of turf toe. Early last week, the coaching staff made the move to take the redshirt off Bouagnon.

“We decided to do that because there are only five games left, and when you pull a redshirt on someone, you don’t want to get down to that one to two games left to pull a redshirt,” NIU coach Rod Carey said.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Carey said he expected Stingily to be back for this week’s game against UMass, and the junior practiced Wednesday.

Stingily will get the majority of the carries should he take the field, but the redshirts are off Bouagnon and Smith, who has three carries for 56 yards in two games, including a 48-yard run against Eastern Michigan.

“I’m a lot more comfortable,” Smith said. “Jordan and the O-linemen tell me every day, just be calm. Just relax, just play like you’re in high school.”

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