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NIU football: Attitude shapes young defenders as injuries affect Huskies

With injuries plaguing NIU’s ‘D’, filling the void has fallen on many

DeKALB – Injuries continue to add up for a Huskies football team that acts unfazed by that fact.

At Northern Illinois’ Tuesday press conference, coach Thomas Hammock was adamant that nonstarters are ready to step in without the team facing a large dropoff.

“Nobody cares about the injuries that you have,” Hammock said. “We certainly move on. The way we practice from training camp on, we’ve gotten guys reps to be prepared for those situations. Dillon [Thomas] had an opportunity to go out there in the game and play and learn. Had a chance to make a pick in the fourth quarter that could have ended the game. Those are the things that we’ll learn from and try to grow from and try to be better this week.”

Antwain Walker missed the second half after an injury, and Thomas, primarily a safety before the past few weeks, was in for the majority of the second half at corner, as Devin Haney was been banged up as well.

Antonio Jones-Davis suffered an undisclosed leg injury in a 39-36 win Saturday at Ohio and is listed atop the depth chart at linebacker. Should he miss time against Miami on Saturday, the Huskies would be without the three players who were penciled in as the starting linebackers only two weeks before the season began. Quintin Wynne also bounced back and played but was banged up.

The depth chart has listed players as starters before who weren’t available for games. Kyle Pugh was listed as the starter at middle linebacker for the Nebraska game despite Hammock saying the coaching staff knew Pugh wouldn’t play in the game.

“We knew it was serious at the time, you’re playing an opponent in Nebraska and there was no need to put information out there until they saw for themselves,” is what Hammock said after the Nebraska game.

Going forward, upperclassmen are banking on inexperienced players having the right attitude.

“A lot of the young guys, they came in with the right attitude,” redshirt senior safety Adam Buirge said. “They’ve been locked in in meetings. It’s never been when they first got in. It was never, ‘Oh, I want to play more, this, this and this.’ They’re just waiting their turn. They’re getting their opportunity.”

With the Huskies’ defense continuing to battle injuries, safety Mykelti Williams’ role will only continue to grow as a run-stopper. Williams recorded 14 tackles in the Ohio comeback and now has 42 tackles.

“He’s hustling every play,” Hammock said. “When you turn on the film and you watch his effort to the ball, it’s contagious. I think there are some plays he’d love to have back. The two-point play, just go make the tackle, it’s a different ball game. But his level of intensity and his effort is unmatched. We appreciate everything that he does.”

The Huskies also are dealing with a recovering Michael Kennedy. Kennedy was knocked out of NIU’s 39-36 comeback win Saturday at Ohio.

Kennedy was injured on the opening kickoff of the contest and was taken to the hospital and scanned for potential head and neck injuries, which came back negative, according to a source close to the team. Kennedy was running down the field chasing the Bobcats’ ball carrier when Ohio’s Keye Thompson laid a blindside hit on Kennedy. Thompson jumped on Kennedy, and then stood posing over the limp Kennedy afterward.

“It was a clean hit. It was very, very clean,” Hammock said. “That guy, he must be a very tough player on their team because he went up there and went mano a mano and made a clean hit. I had no issues with the play. He jumped on him afterwards. That’s the part that I saw and obviously, they flagged it accordingly.”

Bill Carollo, coordinator of football officials for the Collegiate Officiating Consortium, which oversees the Mid-American, Big Ten and Missouri Valley Conferences, issued a statement in response to the Daily Chronicle’s request for comment to the MAC concerning Thompson’s hit on Kennedy.

“The play was properly ruled both on the field and from the replay booth. Ohio No. 38 (Thompson) delivers a severe and forcible hit but a legal block with his shoulder to his opponent’s chest. [Targeting] was called as it was close to the head and neck area. The crown of No. 38 was not involved. [Targeting] was overturned, but No. 38 then commits an [unsportsmanlike] foul after the hit for taunting his opponent. The UNS foul was the only foul enforced.”

Kennedy still is being evaluated this week.

“He’s working through the process,” Hammock said. “I’m not going to talk about injuries. I know what you’re trying to get at, but he’s working through the process of going through the week and we’ll see where he’s at at the end of the week.”

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