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Overheard at the dog park: What Huskies are saying prior to NIU's game Wednesday against Buffalo

Northern Illinois freshman cornerback Jashon Prophete tackles freshman wide receiver Joe Sikma as coaches and members of the defense look on during a drill at practice Friday afternoon at Huskie Stadium.
Northern Illinois freshman cornerback Jashon Prophete tackles freshman wide receiver Joe Sikma as coaches and members of the defense look on during a drill at practice Friday afternoon at Huskie Stadium.

Welcome to Overheard at the Dog Park, a look at what NIU coach Thomas Hammock and players are saying at the team's weekly press conference.

On Friday, Hammock, linebacker Kyle Pugh and wide receiver Cole Tucker, a DeKalb graduate, answered questions from the media.

Here are the highlights:

Tucker on seeing former DeKalb teammate Jordan Gandy, a transfer from South Dakota State, earning a starting spot at cornerback.

"Last time I played with him he was a sophomore in high school and I was a senior," Tucker said. "It's kind of hard to realize he's playing with me in college. I was happy to see him. He's done a great job in camp, really proved himself coming here. I'm happy for him."

NIU's roster has 14 true freshmen listed on the two-deep and five true freshmen starters.

"I guess we all look at things from a different perspective," Hammock said. "I bet if we walked our guys on the field and you were standing there, you wouldn't be able to tell which guys were freshmen and which guys were not. I think from a size and physicality standpoint they have come in and competed more than we have asked of them."

The Huskies will have a virtually all-new backfield this year, with Erin Collins, a JUCO transfer, set to start.

"He's a tremendous player and a tremendous competitor," Hammock said. "He's got good vision, he can find the hole, he has much speed to take it the distance. He can catch. He can pass protect. ... This guy runs hard and runs physical and we're going to get him warmed up Nov. 4."

Pugh said the focus of the season is to win. All the other stuff, he said, can fall where it may. And he said that attitude is important given the team's youth.

"When you play like that you get to kind of hang loose and have fun," Pugh said. "I think the sky is the limit for us. Granted we have a lot of young guys but from what these guys showed in camp, like coach Hammock said, you can't really tell if you're not looking at a roster who's who. These guys can ball."

NIU was picked last in the MAC East in both the coaches and media polls released this week. Buffalo was picked second in the coaches poll and first in the media poll.

"It kind of lights a fire for everyone," Tucker said. "Coach Hammock has done a good job like, 'Good, I hope they put us at the bottom. It gives us more room to prove them wrong, allow us to go out there and show them what we can do.' End of the season, it doesn't really matter where you were projected."

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