Northern Illinois is reaping rewards for its worst-to-first season ahead of the Mid-American Conference championship game.
Thomas Hammock — who will lead the West Division champion Huskies against Kent State on Saturday in Detroit — was named MAC Coach of the Year on Wednesday, while running back Jay Ducker was named Freshman of the Year.
NIU was picked to finish last in the West again after going 0-6 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but the Huskies went 8-4 and 6-2 in conference play to reach their eighth MAC title game in the last 12 years — and their first under Hammock.
The former NIU running back is in his third season in charge in DeKalb. Last month he agreed to a contract extension that runs through the 2026 season.
The Huskies won the division despite placing only one player, safety C.J. Brown, on the All-MAC first team. They had four second-team and five third-team selections.
Nine of NIU’s 12 games were decided by one score, with the Huskies going 7-2 in those games. They won four games by one or two points and another in overtime.
Hammock joins Bill Mallory (1983), Joe Novak (2002) and Rod Carey (2013) as NIU coaches to be named MAC Coach of the Year.
“I view this recognition as a tremendous honor for our program,” Hammock said in a statement. “It’s a reflection of our players, it’s a reflection of our coaches and the tremendous job that those groups have done to have the type of success we’ve had this year.”
Ducker rushed for 889 yards on 165 carries (a 5.4 average) with three touchdowns in 10 games despite not taking over as the starter until the seventh game after injuries to Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown. He topped 100 yards in five of the last six games, including 210- and 183-yard outings in his first two starts against Bowling Green and Central Michigan.
Latest College Football
The Huskies will be seeking their fifth MAC title in 11 years Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN) against Kent State, which is coached by Oak Lawn native and former Richards quarterback Sean Lewis.