DeKALB – With no fans and an abbreviated season, NIU coach Thomas Hammock and the whole football coaching staff has stressed the importance of the team producing its own energy.
Enter the juice committee.
With the NIU football social media pages filled with pictures and videos of the coveted juice jerseys, the Huskies are embracing BYOJ - bring your own juice.
"We've created our own energy and our own juice," Hammock said Tuesday at the school's media day, held virtually this year. "I think our players have bought into that. We have a lot of excitement in practice. We'll be fully prepared when Nov. 4 comes. ... We won't have any problem having juice or energy for the game, I promise you that."
The premise behind the jerseys is simple – a player makes a big play, or does something that helps the energy of the team, that player gets a yellow juice jersey.
It's proven very effective.
"I think it's awesome cause as soon as we brought up the juice committee, everybody wanted to be a part of it," tight end Daniel Crawford said. "They see someone out there with that yellow jersey on, they just want to be a part of it. They want to bring the juice. I feel like it's a competition thing already with the guys. You see one guy with the yellow jersey, you want to be the guy out there the next day."
Hammock, in his second year with the Huskies after spending 2014-2018 with the Baltimore Ravens, said that energy is one of the biggest differences between the pro and college levels.
And fun leads to energy
"I've spent five years in the NFL, and up there you don't need energy. Those guys get paid to perform," Hammock said. "The beauty of college football is you have young men, 18 to 22, 23 years old that need energy, that need excitement, that need fans, that need different things. We are in the social media era and these young men can't wait to put a picture up or a Tweet out. So we want to make it fun for them."
Linebacker Lance Deveaux said it is definitely adding that element to practices.
"With us not having many fans, coach creating the 'bring your own juice' jersey has brought a lot more energy to practice," Deveaux said. "It lets guys know that game day, we got to be our own cheerleaders. We have to cheer our guys on. We have to feed off of each other's energy."
The season is scheduled to start at home on Nov. 4 against Buffalo. Fans won't be allowed at games, but family members of players are expected to be allowed.
Hammock said it's been a physical camp, with practices starting at 6 a.m. four days a week. The team has not practiced inside.
"Who knows what the weather will bring, but we will not be surprised," Hammock said. "If it's windy, we will not be surprised. If it's raining, we will not be surprised. We will not be surprised if it's cold. We'll be well equipped for whatever comes on game day."
Hammock said the team has been paying attention to other teams that have played, trying to avoid missteps that have led to outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.
He said that starts with the players being responsible.
"I think our young men have done an excellent job," Hammock said. "I think the testing protocols by the MAC are outstanding. We test them four times a week. The guys know they're getting tested. They've been very smart in the building, outside the building, making sure that we can control this virus as best as possible."
Overall, Hammock said he's looking forward to the season opener.
"Obviously we have a lot of work to do between now and Nov. 4," Hammock said. "We have a big-time opponent coming here in Buffalo with a top-notch running back. Probably one of the better teams in the MAC. We're going to embrace the opportunity to go out there and play free, play loose and play aggressive."