TOLEDO, Ohio – On Thursday night against Toledo, it was Tre Harbison’s turn.
For a majority of the season, Harbison, a redshirt freshman from Shelby, North Carolina, has played in limited action behind Northern Illinois running backs Jordan Huff, Marcus Jones and Tommy Mister.
However, that didn’t matter Thursday in the Huskies’ 27-17 road loss. Harbison scored his first career touchdown and finished with a season-high 57 yards on eight carries.
“Hard work in practice shows in the game,” Harbison said. “It feels good to get the first one.”
Huff, NIU’s leading rusher, missed his third consecutive game this week with an ankle injury – Jones, Mister and quarterback Marcus Childers have stepped up during his absence.
There wasn’t much room to run for the Huskies against a Toledo defense that Childers called “the best front-seven we’ve faced all year,” but the 5-foot-11, 222-pound Harbison made the most of his opportunities.
“This was really my first [big] game,” Harbison said. “It’s a confidence booster, I know what I can do and I can play at this level.”
NIU coach Rod Carey wasn’t pleased with his team’s rushing attack at Toledo, but he did say he liked the way Harbison ran against the Rockets.
On his first carry Thursday night, Harbison pushed his initial defender back 5 yards before being brought down by a gang of Toledo defenders. During his 1-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-one from the Toledo 1, Harbison was stopped briefly, but kept moving his legs for NIU’s first score.
Harbison is hungry for more touchdowns and confident he can play with the best, but he also understands it’s been a difficult adjustment up to this point.
Back home in Cleveland County in North Carolina, he was the all-time leading rusher maxing out at 5,770 rushing yards and 100 touchdowns for Crest High School. Harbison was recruited heavily by then-North Carolina State offensive line coach/recruiter Mike Uremovich, before ultimately deciding to attend the University of Virginia.
But things didn’t work out how Harbison planned. After one spring semester at Virginia, Harbsion decided to leave the Cavaliers, who went through a coaching change after the 2015 season.
“I got caught up in a culture change at Virginia,” Harbison said. “I didn’t really gel too well with the guys there.”
Harbison found new life in DeKalb, where he followed Urmeovich to NIU. Despite being part of a crowded running back room and having more experienced players in front of him, Harbison is content with his current situation.
“Scoring 100 times in high school, and coming in here – it’s not so easy,” he said. “It feels great to actually see what you do in practice come through in the game.”
The workload at tailback has been a weekly toss-up for the Huskies since Huff went down. It’ll get even more confusing whenever the senior returns, but Harbison said it doesn’t matter who lines up in the backfield.
“We make sure no one’s upset, we always support each other through everything,” Harbison said. “We’re always happy for whoever’s day it is. … Just knowing that I’m the young guy in the room – opportunities will come sooner or later. I’m going to be the best I can be everyday.”