NIU’s Hammock keeps QB starter a secret ahead of season open against Illinois State

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Although Northern Illinois coach Thomas Hammock has repeatedly said he’s not announcing who’s starting at quarterback in the season opener against Illinois State, Redbirds coach Brock Spack said he has a good idea.

“We expect to see the transfer (Ross Bowers, from Cal),” Spack said. “We’re prepared for both of them. I can see a situational type thing with the other guy, (Marcus) Childers.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

During his Tuesday news conference, Hammock indicated he knows who will start Saturday’s season opener (6 p.m., ESPN+) at home against the Redbirds, but wouldn’t show his hand.

“I have a decent idea, but we still got four days to try and get ready for the game,” Hammock said.

He also did not dismiss the idea of playing multiple quarterbacks. Childers returns as a two-year starter who led the Huskies to the fifth Mid-American Conference championship win in program history. Bowers was a starter at Cal in 2017 before transferring after a redshirt season last year.

“The one thing that’s important is this is our first opportunity to work with these quarterbacks,” Hammock said. “Seeing them in the gamelike situation, somebody may get out there and get hot, take the bull by the horn and play. As of now, hopefully, we can have one guy that can go out there and be the leader. If not, we’ll certainly be ready to use two guys if necessary.”

Spack guessed that the Huskies may look for different scenarios to play each quarterback and wants his team to be prepared for both.

“Childers is probably more of a runner. He’s a better runner, but he’s a good thrower. He’s a really good player,” Spack said. “I would suspect we’d see him in short-yardage downs and maybe red zone situations. The other guy … he’s a little bit more of a … passer first than a runner.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

The Huskies will go up against the Redbirds for the first time since 2000. ISU is ranked 13th in the preseason Football Championship Subdivision coaches poll coming off a 6-5 season.

The Redbirds boast a player of the preseason Walter Payton Award watch list in senior running back James Robinson, Illinois’ all-time rushing leader at the high school level with 9,045 yards for Rockford Lutheran.

Robinson ran for 1,290 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground last season.

“I remember watching him in high school. Everyone talked about the legend of James Robinson,” NIU redshirt junior defensive tackle Jack Heflin said. “I’ve heard everything about him. I know about him. I’m just excited. The dude is a great talent.”

ISU boasts an offensive line with each starter listed as at least 6 feet, 5 inches tall. Junior left tackle Drew Himmelman, a junior from Geneseo, is listed at 6-10, 315 pounds.

“I don’t know how many 6-10 guys are out there playing. They are built like a Big Ten team, so we have a challenge,” Hammock said.