Created:Tuesday, August 13, 2013 5:30 a.m.CDT

NIU's tight ends have big shoes to fill

Monica Maschak - Tight end Luke Eakes gets followed on the play during a practice at Huskie Stadium on Friday, August 9, 2013.

DeKALB – For any tight end in Northern Illinois’ system, there’s a lot of learning.

Junior Luke Eakes said it’s challenging enough to where he has to get into the playbook every night.

In NIU’s attack, the tight end might line up wide, on a wing or even in the backfield. There’s a lot to pick up for someone like Eakes, who’s listed at the top of the Huskies’ preseason depth chart. He caught eight passes for 268 yards a year ago (averaging a whopping 33.5 yards a catch) and will have an expanded role this season with Jason Schepler now in San Francisco 49ers camp.

“Luke we used all over (last season), in certain situations to his strength,” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “He can do everything.”

Desroy Maxwell – who saw the field as a freshman last season, primarily as a blocker (though fans might remember his 35-yard scamper on a fake punt during the Orange Bowl) – and junior Tim Semisch also should be utilized as well. One thing is for sure, the group will be seen in a number of roles.

“We have every role besides maybe quarterback,” Semisch said.

Semisch, a big target at 6-foot-8, 266 pounds, was used as more of a red-zone option last year, catching two passes for nine yards, including a 2-yard TD in NIU’s win over Army. This year, he said he’s been worked into the running game as well, and has made an effort to improve his blocking.

“That was probably the main thing, myself, I wanted to work on this summer. I had a lot of confidence in the pass game, but I know I needed to work on [blocking] a lot,” Semisch said. “Run game, two, three times a week me and a couple of the guys were out here on the sleds, out here working footwork.”

All last year, the coaching staff raved about how effective Schepler was as a blocker in the Huskies’ running game. Now, his void is a big one that NIU’s current crop will have to fill.

When Eakes, Semisch and Carey were asked about Schepler, they all talked about what kind of an example he set for the rest of the group.

“Work ethic. He knew how to work. He knew how to study plays,” Eakes said of the former walk-on. “He was smart; he was a really great role model – he still is. We text every now and then, he’s just a very good leader. Very influential for me. A good person.”

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