BY STEVE NITZ
DeKALB – Northern Illinois football coach Rod Carey is looking at options at tailback.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Carey said that sophomore running back Keith Harris Jr. is out for the year because of ankle surgery, which he was scheduled to have today.
“It’s the right thing,” Carey said. “We need to get him in there and get it fixed.”
Harris left the game against Kent State on Oct. 5 with the injury. He finished the season with 21 carries for 143 yards, an average of 6.8 yards a touch. He also missed the final four games of last season because of an ankle injury.
Without Harris’ services, NIU has just two healthy backs on the roster, not counting true freshmen. Last year’s starter – senior Akeem Daniels, hasn’t practiced yet this season because he’s recovering from offseason foot surgery, but Carey said he’s closer to getting back on the practice field.
Junior Giorgio Bowers left the team before the Purdue game. He did not have a carry this season.
“Once we get him there I think we’ll feel real good about how fast he progresses,” Carey said of Daniels. “But you’ve got to be careful with the injury he has and when you get him there. That’s been the caution, but it’s been the right caution.”
Junior Cameron Stingily has been NIU’s go-to back this season, and has had a solid year – he’s ran for 656 yards and six touchdowns. Junior walk-on James Spencer is listed as the backup.
Carey wouldn’t rule out having to burn the redshirt of either Jordan Huff or Joel Bouagnon, or moving fellow true freshman Aregeros Turner back to running back.
Turner was recruited to NIU as an athlete, and took some reps at tailback in fall camp. Turner, who played wideout and tailback in high school, has been at wide receiver, and currently has two catches for 9 yards.
“Any and all scenarios are available,” Carey said.
Luckily, NIU has gotten all it could have asked for out of Stingily, who had a strong fall camp and has carried it over into the season. The offensive line has also played well.
Fans should see more of Spencer, a walk-on redshirt-junior out of Fremont, Ohio. He had just four carries heading into the season, and has 13 touches for 73 yards this year, an average of 5.6 yards per carry.
“He’s getting first-team reps now. He’s very versatile back there. We can pretty much use him in any package,” quarterback Jordan Lynch said of Spencer. “He’s not afraid to run the ball up the middle and go head on.”