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NIU

Gregory, a redshirt freshman, leading the 'young bucks' in the NIU running back room

Northern Illinois University senior quarterback Ross Bowers hands the ball off to runningback Rondarius Gregory Friday during football practice at Huskie Stadium.
Northern Illinois University senior quarterback Ross Bowers hands the ball off to runningback Rondarius Gregory Friday during football practice at Huskie Stadium.

DeKALB - Rondarius Gregory has talked this year about taking the "young bucks" in the running back room under his wing.

Of course, the NIU running back himself is just a redshirt freshman.

Like most positions for the Huskies this year, there is not a ton of experience in the running back group. And that makes the 5-foot, 7-inch, 197-pound Gregory, who played in three games last year for the Huskies, a fountain of experience.

"This year we are young but ready to go," Gregory said. "This year's group is different. We're more closely bonded. We look out for each other. Also, the guys who have had experience on the field, we try to take the younger bucks under our wings and show them the ropes."

Gregory ran for 43 yards on nine carries last year and returns more rushing yards than anyone else on the team. Second-year head coach Thomas Hammock said Gregory and Erin Collins form a big one-two punch out of the backfield.

Collins is a 6-2, 210 transfer from Hutchinson Community College, where he ran 91 times for 385 yards and seven scores last year. He redshirted at NC State as a true freshman.

"I think what I've seen is he's proven why he was a Power 5 player out of high school," Hammock said. "He has all the traits of a big-time back. He can run the ball. He can catch it. He can pass protect. He can make plays on his won and break tackles. NC State wasn't wrong on him so we're happy to have him."

Gregory said he has sky-high expectations for the duo.

"I'm not going to lie, I think we're the best backfield in the MAC," Gregory said. "With Erin Collins and myself, that 1-2 punch is pretty scary. It's a scary sight. There are some young guys, Mitchell, Waylee, that can come in and there won't be a dropoff."

Running back coach Nic McKissic-Luke said he also expects contributions from Harrison Waylee, a true freshman out of Iowa, and Jyran Mitchell, a redshirt sophomore out of Matteson who played receiver for the Huskies after playing quarterback for Rich Central in high school.

McKissic-Luke said Gregory brings a lot of confidence to the position group.

"Rondy is the attitude of the group and the guy you can count on," McKissic-Luke said. "He's a guy who is really dynamic in the open field. He's a guy we're going to count on heavily this season and on third down. He's a guy we just love the way he comes to work every day and the leadership he brings really helps the progress of this group."

And although he is just a freshman, he's really excelling in that leadership role, McKissic said.

"His leadership is second to none," McKissick-Luke said. "It sounds crazy because he's a redshirt freshman but he's one of the vets of the group and we need him to bring that."

Gregory, a graduate of East Nashville Magnet in Tennessee, said he's trying to balance taking the advice of the older guys while still being a leader to the younger ones.

"To be honest I'm still learning, you feel me?" Gregory said. "I'm learning from the older guys. I try to take what them and what they tell me and apply that to myself and learn. Me being a freshman and one of the leaders, it's hard but at the same time it's not. It's a lot and a little. It's a learning experience. I know everyone will be looking for me what my time comes. I'm showing them glimpses now. ... It's a cool experience."

Hammock said Gregory is poised for a breakout 2020 season.

"Rondarius is a guy we felt could have played more last year and probably deserved to play more," Hammock said. "He picked up where he left off. He's faster, has a better understanding of the offense and is just a tough guy. We don't beat Western Michigan without him that last game. What you see a lot of the time is a player makes a huge jump from Year 1 to Year 2. He's definitely made that jump."

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