College Football

Northern Illinois Goes From 0-6 To MAC Champs And A Tailgreeter Cure Bowl Invite

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Northern Illinois has come a long way in a short time. The Huskies went from 0-6 in a COVID-shortened 2020 season to 9-4 this season. That includes a 41-23 victory over Kent State in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game on Dec. 4. It was the first winning season for Northern Illinois since the 2018 season.

How did they do it? Huskies head coach Thomas Hammock reflected on that very question during a press conference on Wednesday, ahead of the seventh-annual Tailgreeter Cure Bowl, which kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17 at Exploria Stadium in Orlando.

“We played our last game (last season) against Eastern Michigan, then you start to reflect and evaluate your season,” Hammock said. “Obviously, we went 0-6. On the bus ride home, the only thing that I could think about is how hard it is to get over that hump.”

The internal pressure was mounting. The external pressure was mounting. What was Hammock going to do to prevent the losing streak to overlap into this season? It was a rather daunting schedule to begin the season at Georgia Tech, a game with Wyoming and then a trip to eventual CFP qualifier Michigan staring them in the face.

“I thought about taking the reverse perspective and tell our guys that we are the best team in the MAC until proven otherwise,” Hammock said. “I think that should give you confidence and cohesive pressure. You only have to do the things that we ask you to do and you will be successful.”

That’s the stance he took, and it worked. It was the edge, he said, that the team needed to start anew.

The Huskies beat Georgia Tech, 22-21, and though they lost the next two, it propelled them to a 5-game win streak and they were off and running. Northern Illinois won 7 of its last 9 games before taking down Kent State in the conference title game, avenging one of those regular season losses on the road.

“I remember the first Tuesday before Georgia Tech after we went through training camp – I talked to our players about having an edge that you don’t even realize,” Hammock said. “All we needed was little bit of momentum to kick start all the things that I saw in training camp. I thought that we had a chance to be good now.”

Northern Illinois redshirt freshman linebacker James Ester spoke about playing in the Tailgreeter Cure Bowl, which raises funds for cancer research.

“I don’t talk about this a lot, but by best friend when I was 10-years old passed away from brain cancer,” Ester said. “Finding a cure for cancer is a big thing for me. Also, my grandmother is a breast cancer survivor. This is a huge deal for her. I want to go out there and be able to play for them.”

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