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From quarantine to practice field: NIU starts fall football practice

Northern Illinois University players take part in the Huskie Bowl scrimmage April 20, 2019, at Huskie Stadium. Practice for the 2020 fall season resumed Friday.
Northern Illinois University players take part in the Huskie Bowl scrimmage April 20, 2019, at Huskie Stadium. Practice for the 2020 fall season resumed Friday.

As a teamwide quarantine ended Friday, the NIU football team wasted little time getting back on the field, opening fall camp Friday night.

Offensive lineman Brayden Patton said it’s been a unique two weeks.

“It’s been crazy,” Patton said. “Guys have been on their own for two weeks. We’ve been finding ways to work out at home or where we’re at. We’ve had some team meetings to go over some things by position. But it’s just been crazy.”

Before the practice Friday evening, the Huskies had some workouts in the morning.

“The guys were excited to get off quarantine, which is good,” coach Thomas Hammock said. “It gives us a nice boost of momentum to get started with fall camp.”

The Mid-American Conference announced a six-game fall schedule beginning Nov. 4. Hammock said practices for MAC teams were able to start Sept. 28.

Even with his team not able to practice until Friday because of the quarantine, Hammock said he doesn’t feel the other teams had an advantage.

“I don’t feel like we’re behind anybody,” Hammock said. “We made up a lot of ground this summer. Guys came up early, even when they were voluntary. We had enhanced training portions that were very productive, and we had five training camp practices, so we’re familiar with practice.”

Hammock said the first practices will focus on getting back up to speed with fundamentals and techniques. He said by the middle to end of next week the team will practice in pads for the first time since last season.

As much as he wants to get in pads again, Patton said he understands the slower approach.

“We really do want to get out there with pads,” Patton said. “But we know we need to work on our techniques and fundamentals first.”

Hammock said the players have gotten the message.

“We explained to them we’ve taken a progressive approach to camp,” Hammock said. “It’s twofold. No. 1 is we want to be able to play clean football. But No. 2 is we want to keep the team healthy. The last thing we want to do is jump in and start hitting with poor fundamentals and poor technique and get guys injured. We talked about stepping up progressively. Every day we do one more thing until we feel like we’ve been through the meat grinder and are prepared to go hit on the field.”

With the league going from getting ready for the fall season, to becoming the first conference to announce its intentions to cancel the fall and try to play in the spring, to going back and announcing plans for the fall, Hammock said the team has stuck through it all.

“I think one thing you can credit the players with is resilience,” Hammock said. “They’ve handled everything since March the way you’d expect them to handle it. I couldn’t be more proud of the job they’ve done. We have a start day for when the season starts. We know it. We know we have a lot of preparation to do. We’re excited to put in the work every day.”

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