DeKALB – Cameron Stingily was nervous.
Northern Illinois' 30-27 win at Iowa was the junior tailback's first start of his career, and really the first time he had taken the field on offense since his senior year at Romeoville High School in 2009.
His long road to earning the Huskies' starting job came after suffering a torn Achilles his freshman year, as well as a position switch.
"The first play I think I was shaky. I hadn't played in football – offense or defense, since high school, something like that," he said. "First play I was just nervous going out there. Once I realized they were just like me, all that went away."
Three years ago, Stingily, then a linebacker, saw the field as a true freshman. He played in five games on special teams before tearing his Achilles. Still not recovered from the injury in 2011, Stingily took a redshirt year.
Then, prior to spring practice in 2012, the coaching staff wanted Stingily to move to running back, a position he played in high school in addition to linebacker.
He was finally getting accustomed to NIU's defense, but was forced to start all over.
"I was actually mad at first. As soon as I started getting the defense, they asked me to move. I thought I wasn't going to play again. I thought that was like my ticket to never play again," Stingily said. "It ended up working out. Then once I started learning, seeing progress happen, my film getting better, I was like I can probably do something with it."
Last season, Stingily received just one carry, rushing for five yards against Massachusetts. Now, he's sitting atop the Huskies' depth chart with last year's starter, senior Akeem Daniels, still out while recovering from offseason foot surgery.
In the spring, there were times Stingily would be gassed after a couple of plays. Over the summer, he cut out the greasy food and and dropped 20 pounds. Now, he comes in around 230-235 pounds and has no problem staying in for an entire series.
When Kelton Copeland, NIU's first-year running backs coach, first saw Stingily work out in spring practice, he saw a player who had trouble with basic agility drills. That isn't the case anymore.
Copeland describes Stingily's play from spring practice to now as night and day, and Stingily's added reps have helped.
"I remember more than once, he actually fell over the bags (during the agility drills). I was like, this is my introduction to Division I football," Copeland said. "I was like, this isn't very good. He worked with it. He worked at it and worked at it."
Copeland said Stingily is a guy who can do a number of things – something the coaching staff asks of every tailback.
When Daniels comes back, NIU head coach Rod Carey didn't rule out having both him and Stingily on the field at the same time.
Stingily, who ran 12 times for 47 yards against the Hawkeyes, was at his best in the second half against a tired defense.
"He was running over some guys at Iowa," Carey said. "I'll tell you what, I don't know if our defense likes tackling him a lot either in fall camp, so that's 235 to 240 pounds of man running downhill at you."
Stingily's road to Iowa was a long and winding one. To him, in the end, the injury that caused him to miss over a season ended up being a positive.
"It worked out. I got my fifth year," he said. "I get to come back next year. I would have been done this year."