DeKALB – Northern Illinois doesn't win the 2011 shootout at Toledo without Tommylee Lewis and his back-to-back kickoff return touchdowns.
Marlon Moore started six games at cornerback last season. Running back Keith Harris Jr. scored NIU's first touchdown in the season-opening loss to Iowa last year. Jimmie Ward blocked a school-record three punts in 2010 and was NIU's Special Teams Player of the Year.
All of them made an impact as true freshmen.
At NIU, it's not very common to see many true freshmen take the field. Whether to play certain newcomers who can make an impact and burn their redshirts, or have them for their fifth season, is a tough decision coaches have to deal with throughout fall camp.
Thirty true freshmen line NIU's roster, and you'll see only a handful of them on the field this season. Most will spend the year with the scout team and be available for a fifth year. Two who could see playing time are wide receivers Aregeros Turner and Chad Beebe.
With the Huskies already into their preparation for Iowa, Beebe and Turner have been taking reps with the offense, and have not been part of the scout team.
Both have been impressive this August, but NIU head coach Rod Carey still isn't ready to say if they'll see the field this year.
"Right now, I can't answer that," Carey said. "Right now they're repping with us, and we'll just see how it all plays out."
Middle linebacker Sean Folliard missed a lot of the preseason due to a knee injury, but he's been practicing with the second team this week and could be another candidate to see time. He graduated high school a semester early and was on campus for spring drills.
"I think he's right there with the other ones that you mentioned," Carey said. "He's repped with us, and we'll see how it goes. But he's looked good."
Carey gets input from his assistants every day. It's a long process. The staff takes a number of things into their decision, including each individual's makeup.
Last season, tight end Desroy Maxwell was one of six true freshmen to play. The others were Harris, Moore, wide receiver Jacob Brinlee, linebacker Mike Cotton and defensive end Perez Ford.
One of the reasons Maxwell didn't redshirt was because former head coach Dave Doeren wanted him to travel with the team and learn from last year's starter at tight end, Jason Schepler.
Maxwell still texts Schepler for advice, and said playing last year helped him with simple things like confidence. Maxwell played in 12 games last year, and was mainly used as a blocker. He did have the 35-yard run on a fake punt in the Orange Bowl.
"I think nerves is a big part of it. I got it out of the way last year," he said. "Now I can just focus on playing."
Moore was able to improve in the film room.
"The experience helped me out a lot, because now I know how to study film," said Moore, who had two interceptions and four pass breakups last year. "I know how to read the receivers, opponents that I'm going against for the next game."