Created:Wednesday, August 15, 2012 11:19 p.m.CDT
Updated:Wednesday, August 15, 2012 11:20 p.m.CDT

Rashaan Melvin gains strength, confidence

Northern Illinois cornerback Rashaan Melvin warms up at practice at Huskie Stadium. (Kyle Bursaw –

DeKALB – When Rashaan Melvin arrived at Northern Illinois as a true freshman in 2008, he was a tall and lean 170-pound cornerback.

Due to his lanky figure, Melvin, who's listed at 6-2, earned the nickname "Sticks" from former Huskies running back Chad Spann.

Four years later, the nickname still stands, and Melvin still hears the word "Sticks" come out of teammates' mouths on the field. But he isn't looking like the same player who showed up on the NIU campus in 2008.

Back when he received the name, Melvin laughed and joked about it. He also used it as motivation, doing extra work in the weight room and improving his nutrition. Since his freshman season, Melvin, now a redshirt senior, said he's gained 30 pounds.

Sure, his nickname isn't going away anytime soon. However, the reason Melvin received the name doesn't apply anymore.

"It's more like trunks," Melvin joked after Wednesday's practice at Huskie Stadium.

In his five years in the program, Melvin has gone from a walk-on out of Waukegan to a scholarship player and one of the Huskies' top defensive players. Last season, he tied for the team lead with three interceptions and led NIU with nine pass breakups.

Not to mention his 78 tackles were good for fourth among Huskies.

Melvin's strong tackling is partly a product of his added bulk, but the senior's always been proud of his tackling ability and his strong technique.

"I understand leverage. I understand I can read the running back, read receivers real good," he said. "My first instincts are real quick, so I can see what's going on and be able to explode when the contact comes."

Being stronger has only helped Melvin bring down ball carriers in the open field.

"I always see myself as a good tackler," he said. "But it just helped me improve when it comes to tackling the bigger running backs and bigger receivers and just being able to focus on my technique and how to tackle and stuff like that."

Melvin will be counted on heavily in the Huskies' defense this season and has a much better understanding of the system with a year of experience under the current coaching staff.

To NIU cornerbacks coach Richard McNutt, there's not much Melvin doesn't have as a corner. There's his good size, strong speed, ball skills and instincts that make him the player he is.

A season veteran of the program and the position, Melvin's also able to help out the younger defensive backs.

"He's able to tell them exactly what they're supposed to do like it's me talking in a meeting," McNutt said. "When a guy can do that, that just allows [him] to go out there and slow the game down and play faster."

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