DeKALB – Northern Illinois running back Akeem Daniels can’t believe how naive he was last season when he switched from wide receiver to the backfield.
“I thought it was easy at first,” Daniels said. “I was kind of ignorant, thinking I could just come in and do it off of raw talent. There’s more to it.”
At 5-foot-7, 184 pounds, Daniels has the build of a running back. But last year, he admits, he didn’t have the knowledge he needed.
“I thought it was a lot more intensive [at running back],” Daniels said. “As soon as I started to get everything down and know what they know, I started to feel like I was one of them.”
Daniels isn’t the only one in the running backs’ meeting room that felt like an outsider at some point.
Junior Leighton Settle and senior Jamal Womble transferred from community college last year, sophomore Giorgio Bowers sat out last season after coming from Akron and Cameron Stingily is making the transition from linebacker this spring.
Most of the running backs competing for carries have undergone some type of transition in the past two years.
“It brings us closer together,” Settle said. “Last year, it was fun having running backs in front of me, seeing what they were going through.”
In 2011, the lead running back was Fort Scott Community College transfer Jasmin Hopkins.
Settle learned from the way Hopkins handled his transition to Division I college football.
“He went through some adversity on his way here,” Settle said. “He knew he couldn’t let things take him down.”
Settle spent one semester at Fresno City Community College in 2010, and the adjustment to NIU last year was difficult. He finished the season with 84 rushing yards on 16 carries.
“I let things get ahead of me, and I let that bother me in practice. I wasn’t focused,” Settle said. “This year, I [have] to be calm with the way we run our offense and prepare for practice every day. I’m definitely more confident.”
This spring, Daniels, Womble and Settle have competed for first-team repetitions.
Coach Dave Doeren hopes he can settle on one running back to shoulder the load like Hopkins did last year, when he ran for 956 yards. But Doeren isn’t completely sure that will happen.
“Right now we’ll be by committee until somebody says, ‘I’m better than everybody,’” Doeren said. “We’re not there yet.”
For the first five practices, Daniels has been getting the most first-team reps.
The junior finished second among running backs last season with 246 rushing yards and three touchdowns while he adjusted to the position.
Now, he feels comfortable and thinks he can step into the lead role.
“I think it’s my home position,” he said. “It feels more natural than it did last year. At first, you’re getting everything thrown at you and you have to learn the basics. Now, I can get more in depth and become a pretty good running back.”