DeKALB – Rob Sterling hadn’t played fullback before he arrived on Northern Illinois’ campus.
At Thornton Fractional South High School in the south suburbs, Sterling played linebacker and was a left guard in the team’s Wing-T offense. He had offers from smaller schools, but opted to come to NIU has a walk-on linebacker.
As a true freshman in 2011, Sterling’s role changed – big time. The Huskies needed some help at fullback, and the coaching staff figured Sterling would be a good fit. He started one game at the position that season, playing primarily on special teams. He earned a scholarship before the 2013 season.
“I think it was just because, being physical, showing what I could do on special teams. We had a couple different injuries my true freshman year, so they kind of had to find a guy to plug in,” Sterling said. “That’s where I ended up sticking for the past couple years.”
Sterling has been NIU’s top fullback the past two seasons, paving the way for 1,000-yard rushers like Jordan Lynch and Cameron Stingily.
Physical mentality is the No. 1 thing first-year NIU tight ends/fullbacks coach Craig Harmon looks for at the position. It’s a must for any lead blocker.
“You look at fullbacks every day, on Saturdays or Sundays, it’s a physical position,” Harmon said. “Those linebackers are coming downhill, those D-linemen when you’re matched up on them, they’re going to come after you hard. It’s a physical nature, and if you can’t play physical you can’t play that position.”
In NIU’s spread offense, there’s a number of different ways the fullback can line up. Harmon requires his guys to grasp the whole offense, not get “pigeon-holed” so to speak.
Sterling said that after switching over from the linebacker spot, the toughest adjustment for him was just learning to be under control.
“Linebacker you can take all your aggression out, and you can blow through people, but fullback you just have to have a different type of control while still being aggressive,” Sterling said. “Just because, you still have to stay in front of the guy and you can’t let him make the tackle. The biggest change, I think, was just staying under control while still being aggressive at the same time.”