DEKALB – Toward the end of Wednesday’s Northern Illinois University football practice, second-year head coach Rod Carey had an announcement.
“It’s the first day in pads, tempers are flaring a little bit, and that’s good,” he said. “Let’s go first-team offense against first-team defense, on the goal line, and see if the offense can get a first down.”
That was the signal for 2010 Sterling graduate Tyler Loos to take the field. A 6-foot-5, 302-pound fifth-year senior, he’s been a fixture at left tackle for a good chunk of the past two seasons. He’s back for one more.
On Wednesday, the first-team offense went 2-for-2 in acquiring first downs. Both of the clinching plays were runs up the middle, and Loos successfully bulled his man out of the way on each occasion.
It’s a trend he hopes will continue.
It likely will, provided he’s able to stay on the field. That’s no small matter.
After redshirting as a freshman in 2010, Loos missed the entire 2011 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee the first week of preseason training camp.
In 2012, Loos started the first 11 games at left tackle before breaking his right tibia and fibula in the waning moments of a game against Toledo. He missed the team’s last three games, including an Orange Bowl loss to Florida State. Surgery left him with a metal rod in his right leg that is there to this day.
In 2013, Loos started the first nine games before going down with a broken left fibula, dislocated left ankle and torn deltoid ligament against Massachusetts. Again, he missed the rest of the season.
“It’s one of the worst feelings you could have,” said Loos, when asked about missing the end of the last two seasons. “I’ve been unlucky, but I’ll keep working hard so I can play the greatest game there is.”
For Loos, the start of the 2014 season began almost immediately after he was hurt against UMass. He had surgery the next day, was stuck in Boston for 2 more agonizing days, then came back to DeKalb.
He was on crutches for 2 months, after which he could walk in a boot. He skipped spring practice, but was able to lift weights.
Loos was able to start jogging by April, and was running by June. He spent most of the summer in DeKalb, working out with the rest of the Huskies.
He’s added about 15 pounds of “mostly muscle,” he says, and his bench press has increased by about 20 pounds, to 390.
“At this point, I’m a lot further ahead this season than what I was last season,” Loos said. “I’m feeling pretty good for this season.”
Carey, who was Loos’ offensive line coach before taking over as head coach in December of 2012, is thrilled to have Loos back in the fold. Loos was a first-team all-conference performer in 2013, and will anchor an offensive line that has 103 career starts.
“He needs to play at the high level he can,” Carey said, “and he’s way ahead of where he was last year at this time. We feel good about where he’s at right now.”
Loos has no plans to wear any special pads or braces to protect his surgically repaired legs. The only thing he’ll do is wrap his left ankle with special tape that will hold it in place, even when moving around.
“Right now, my ankle’s tight,” he said. “I can’t move up and down as far as I can with my right ankle. The major thing with injuries is range of motion, so you can stay flexible and be more agile out on the field.”
Loos went through a regular practice on Monday, then was limited to drills and conditioning on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it was back to normal. On Thursday, more drills and conditioning. He hopes to be going full strength by sometime in the next week or two.
When the season opener against Presbyterian rolls around on Aug. 28, however, Loos won’t be thinking about his health.
“Once I’m out there and we’re going live, I really don’t think about it.” Loos said. “If somebody gets close to my legs and I kind of feel something, I’ll admit I get scared for a second, but once game time comes, I’ll get over that and I won’t even be thinking about it.”
Carey stressed there will be no coddling of Loos.
“Football is a violent sport,” Carey said. “There’s a lot of collisions between big men trying to clear holes for little men. Yeah, we’ll take some precautions with Tyler, but when you’re on the field, you’ve got to go as an offensive lineman.”
The big question for the Huskies is who will replace Jordan Lynch at quarterback. Lynch guided the team to a combined 24-4 record the past two seasons, but he’s now trying to make the Chicago Bears’ roster.
Three signal callers – Anthony Maddie, Drew Hare, and Matt McIntosh – have been getting first-team reps early in the preseason. Nobody at NIU on Wednesday, including Loos, was saying who would get the job.
“Hopefully somebody separates himself soon,” Loos said, “but I think it’s a good battle.”
In the Mid-American Conference Media Day on July 23, NIU was tabbed to finish second in the West Division, behind Toledo, in a poll of the league’s coaches. Being an underdog is just fine with Loos.
“I’ve seen some people think we won’t be as good without Jordan,” Loos said, “but we’ve got a lot of guys returning on offense. Our offense is going to be fine. On defense, we’ve got some new schemes. Those guys are playing tough, and they’re going to be solid, too. I think we’ll have a shot to go to the MAC championship game again, and go to another big bowl.”
Loos is on track to graduate with a degree in finance in December. He’s taking just two classes this semester – a required class in international finance, and an elective in portfolio management.
Loos applied for and was accepted into the portfolio management class. He’s among a group of nine students who will decide where to invest about $300,000 of NIU’s money, and the teacher will execute the transactions.
“It should be a pretty interesting class,” Loos said, “and it’s something I look forward to learning about.”
High school: Sterling, class of 2010
College: Northern Illinois
FYI: 2-year starter at left tackle for Huskies. ... All-conference first team as junior, & second team as sophomore. ... Missed all or parts of last 3 seasons with injuries. ... Will graduate with degree in finance in December.