by Steve Nitz [Staff Writer]
From 1999-2007, NIU had a 1,000 yard rusher. The nine-year streak ended in Jerry Kill’s first season at the helm of the NIU football program.
Last year the team’s leading rusher was quarterback Chandler Harnish with 539 yards.
No NIU back had more than 110 carries, as the team moved to a carry-by-committee approach. Four backs carried the ball at least 40 times.
Kill wants that to change this year.
“We need somebody to step up and make some plays,” Kill said. “We would like one or two [backs] to emerge and take the job.”
Me’co Brown and Chad Spann are the main cogs in the backfield. Brown led the team in carries last year with 110 while Spann had 88.
Kill said Justin Anderson is also in the picture. Anderson ran for 1,245 yards in 2007, but after leading the team in carries in last season’s opener at Minnesota, his playing time diminished, and he only carried the ball 53 times on the year.
“It’s one of those things where we played the youngsters that were playing well and doing well,” added Kill. “According to what we were doing and the personnel groupings we were in, there’s a whole lot that goes into it.”
One thing Brown has going for him in spring practice is he is fully healthy.
During last season’s game at Eastern Michigan, a game in which he ran for 117 yards, Brown suffered a bone bruise in his foot which bothered him the rest of the year.
“I was trying to fight through the pain,” Brown said. “I got 98 percent for the bowl game, right now I’m 110 percent.”
Brown, going through his first year of spring practice, also has a better grasp of the offense and blocking schemes going into his second season.
“The game, it’s slowed down,” Brown said. “From practice during the fall to [spring] practice, it’s way slower.”
Spann came on at the end of last season, once he got healthy after pulling a hamstring in training camp.
“I just have to come out here and be more consistent,” Spann said. “That’s everything—pass blocking, knowing your assignments. Being out here and making plays.”
Even though Kill would like one or two backs to emerge and fully grasp the job, he pointed out the fact the Huskies were third in the MAC in rushing last season, and he’s not afraid to go with a committee again.
“We still ran the ball well,” Kill commented. “We would like one or two of those guys to emerge and take the job. If [they] don’t we’ll do the same thing.”