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Hammock: NIU football looking good through first four practices

Ross Bowers throws downfield during NIU's game against Ohio University on Oct. 11, 2019, in Athens, Ohio.
Ross Bowers throws downfield during NIU's game against Ohio University on Oct. 11, 2019, in Athens, Ohio.

Not that it's the only metric NIU coach Thomas Hammock uses to determine how successful a practice is, but the Huskies hit one goal in their first early morning practice on Monday.

"I did very little yelling, which is rare," Hammock said. "I really liked the focus of the team."

The Huskies had their fourth fall practice on Monday, having gone every day since a two-week quarantine was lifted on Friday. Hammock said he wants to progressively build into practices ahead of the scheduled Nov. 4 opener, with full pads not coming until later in the week. The team hasn't been in full pads since last season ended.

The second-year head coach did say the team worked out in shoulder pads Sunday per NCAA rule before returning to helmets Monday.

In fact, with a short turnaround between Sunday afternoon and Monday morning, this was a practice that had been on Hammock's mind for a while.

"Today I had circled on my calendar because we practice Sunday afternoon then came back early this morning," Hammock said. "It was the first short turnaround, it was 34 degrees in DeKalb and I wanted to see how we'd approach it and what was our mindset. They handled it better than I expected to say the least."

Senior linebacker Kyle Pugh said he was glad to be back.

"It's still the first week of camp so its exciting," Pugh said. "The newness hasn't worn off yet. It will probably in Week 2. But it's good to be outside and good to be back to football. The team was excited. It was probably rougher for the freshmen who haven't been here and don't know what our winters are like. For an old guy like me I'm used to it."

When asked about the weather Monday morning not even being that bad by DeKalb standards, he was quick to reply.

"Oh it's not even close."

Even with the frost warning in DeKalb when the Huskies took to the turf at Huskie Stadium, Hammock said that given a six-game schedule that will be played entirely in November and December, he's making sure the team is used to the elements.

"We're going to practice outside pretty much every day for the rest of the season," Hammock said. "We need to embrace the elements. We've paying football in November and December. We don't want to get to gameday and be surprised by the way the wind is blowing or how cold it is. We want to make sure we can mentally and physically handle the elements. With our midwest footprint we have to embrace the elements. And embracing the elements helped us win a couple games last year."

Hammock said the team has been very focused since practices began Friday.

"It's really validating what we thought," Hammock said. "We've got a team that will go out and make plays and play any type of football we want to play on offense. There are guys in the passing game that can make plays. There are guys in the running game that can make plays. The offensive line is very, very solid."

Hammock said he wasn't going to single out any playmakers after just four days.

"What we express to players is the first two weeks are your time to show us what you've got," Hammock said. "Show us you deserve time. I'm not going to skip a step in the evaluation process. We'll go through the practice and it will sort itself out. TO single out one or two guys is not fair to our football team. We've got a process to stick to."

Pugh called the past two weeks - which started with the Huskies in a quarantine thinking there would be no fall season and ended with practices prepping for a Nov. 4 start to the season against a still-to-be-determined opponent - a roller coaster.

But all of that has made the team eager to compete.

"We really young so every day the competition level is really high," Pugh said. "That's always good for a team. Guys are competing for spots, taking special teams seriously and paying really high attention to detail. I think a big step moving forward when guys are as young as we are falls on leadership to get guys ready. But when guys want to get better and want to learn it makes it really easy."

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