P.J. Fleck Still Has Massive Impact on NIU Huskies Program Today

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This fall will see Thomas Hammock commence his head coaching career at Northern Illinois University, while P.J. Fleck begins his second year at Minnesota. The two men played college football together at NIU, and both left a tremendous imprint upon the program.

Fleck owns the school record for career punt returns (87), is second in punt return yards (716), third in career catches (179) and fourth in receiving yards (2,162). Hammock is the school’s 13th all-time leading rusher.

“The ’99 class is a big reason why NIU is where they are now,” the first year head coach said at the Chicago edition of NIU Media Day. “I believe that.”

Fleck has a very loud, extremely fast-talking style of public presentation that commands a lot of attention, and sometimes arouses suspicion. Hammock ensured everybody that P.J. Fleck is the genuine article.

“P.J. is who he is,” Hammock continued. “Just because this is the first time you guys (mainstream college football media) have seen it, but when we were freshman walking into the program together in 1999, he was the same person.”

Fleck is striving to put Golden Gophers football back to the pedestal it was once on during the first half of the 20th century. He went 7-6 during his debut season in the Twin Cities, but he did win three of his last four, and in the process became the first Minnesota coach to ever win the regular season finale and a bowl game in the same season.

“He’s got it rolling,” Hammock said, before bringing up his time at Minnesota, and also his career with the Gophers’ chief rival.

“They beat Wisconsin for the first time in 15 years, I was at Minnesota and we couldn’t get it done, I had to go to Wisconsin, but he went up there and got it done. He’s recruiting well.”

“I’m proud of him. He’s a NIU alum, he bleeds it just like the rest of these people (in the room at Media Day) bleed for NIU. Although he went to Western Michigan, it was a chance to be a head coach. I’m happy for him.”

Hammock inherits a team from Rod Carey that won the MAC title, but lost its bowl game, in very lopsided fashion. Under Carey the Huskies remained the gold standard of the MAC, but lost, quite often in a very ugly manner, all six of their bowl games.

Ending the bowl game drought will be a huge priority for Hammock, while both he and P.J. Fleck are moving their programs forward by building around Chicagoland area kind of players. The two men talk regularly to this day, and they even attended a coaching convention together back in the day.

“Any time you go through a program you’re always going to be brothers, no matter where you go, what your circumstances may be, you’re always going to be brothers,” said Hammock.

Fleck’s jersey, from his very brief days with the San Francisco 49ers, still hangs on the wall at Fatty’s in DeKalb. This establishment is not just the premier pre and post game destination for Huskies fans. It also hosts the weekly NIU coaches’ radio show during the season.

“Everywhere you go at Northern Illinois, you’re going to have P.J. Fleck’s name,” said Spencer Tears, in an exclusive interview with The Sports Bank today.

“We know who P.J. Fleck is all around campus. As a wideout you want to know the history of all the old receivers who came through Northern Illinois, and from what I know P.J. Fleck was an outstanding wide receiver, great player, obviously he’s a great coach now.”

Tears should most likely emerge as the Huskies’ primary receiver this season, and he should see significant time on punt returns as well. The chance is there for Tears to really make a run at some of Fleck’s receiving and return yardage records this season.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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