Created:Friday, July 30, 2010 11:03 p.m.CDT

An encore for 'Superman?'

Northern Illinois running back Chad Spann is looking to top his breakout junior season. (Chronicle file photo)

DETROIT – There was no phone booth. But Chad Spann, nicknamed "Superman" by his teammates, did undergo a quick change when coach Jerry Kill first arrived at Northern Illinois.

Standing all of 5-foot-9, Spann was accustomed to running around high school defenses in the Indianapolis area, not through them as he's done for the Huskies.

"I was 175 pounds and just faster than everybody else," Spann said. "I could just run around them and run away from people. When coach (Kill) got here and brought in that power offense, we needed somebody who could get those short yards. I took it upon myself and I started studying some running backs like that."

Spann took the challenge to heart and studied tape of running backs such as Georgia and now Denver Broncos back Knowshon Moreno, Ahman Green and Michigan State's Javon Ringer.

"Everything [Moreno] has on YouTube, I've seen," Spann said at Friday's MAC media day in Detroit. "I love watching him play. He's not a super fast guy, he's got great vision, great balance, great hips. He just moves really well and that's how I like to play."

Two seasons later, Spann is coming off a year in which he rushed for 1,038 yards and 19 touchdowns, finishing the 2009 campaign with 20 total scores. Now the challenge in front of the senior is even bigger than the hits he's laid on defenders.

Do it again.

Oh, and help lead the Huskies to the Mid-American Conference championship.

"The touchdowns, that was crazy. That's just something that kind of comes," Spann said. "That's not something I can just easily get. So I have to work hard this offseason, I've been working hard just to match what I did last year."

Spann's bruising running style won't change, "I like to hit people," Spann said laughing. So what he's worked on in the offseason is building up stamina to withstand a season's worth of punishment to his shoulders and legs – a slow-acting kryptonite, if you want to go that far – something he experienced with a career-high 179 carries last season.

He's fully recovered from the torn labrum that kept him out of contact drills in the spring and limited him at the end of last season. In the weight room, Spann maxes out at 355 pounds on the bench press and a 475 squat. He also has added five pounds since December.

"I think he knows the wear and tear you take at tailback, so I think he's done everything he can to get himself ready to play," Kill said.

While he was unable to participate in contact drills in the spring, Spann also looked back to his past to add something to his repertoire for his senior season, taking advantage of speed and agility drills that were the bulk of the activities he could do in the winter and spring.

"I'm trying to get back to what I was able to do in high school," he said, "running away from people as well as being able to pick up those short yards."

Will NIU football win the MAC this season?