Ever since he began to be rumored as Northern Illinois University’s next head football coach, there has been a buzz around campus. From his introductory press conference on Jan. 18, to speaking engagements, appearances at events and, yes, even his presence on Twitter (@NIUCoachHammock), NIU alumnus Thomas Hammock, ’02, is reigniting the passion of the Huskie fan base.

Hammock is thankful for, if a little puzzled by, the reception he has received.

“It’s definitely humbling,” he said. “I’ve just been me. I’m not a self-promoting type of guy. I am who I am. I’m very passionate about NIU football, and I think we’re building something that can be sustained for an extended period of time.”

Of course, winning starts with student-athletes and Hammock’s enthusiasm for NIU. The pure positivity of his demeanor is evident in Hammock’s daily interactions with the Huskie players.

“The most fun has been getting to know the whole team,” he said. “I’ve always been about relationships and mentoring young people. This is a people business, and the more the players trust you, the more you can demand from them.”

NIU head football coach and alumnus Thomas Hammock addresses his team at practice.

There is no doubt Hammock, who played for head coach Joe Novak at NIU from 1999-2002 and returned to the staff as an assistant coach in 2005-06, knows the meaning of “The Hard Way.” He rushed for 1,000 yards in both 2000 and 2001, was a two-time All Mid-American Conference First Team selection and the first two-time Academic All-American in Huskie football history.

Now Hammock is demanding the discipline and work ethic that was a hallmark of his college career—both in the classroom and on the field—from the current Huskies.

“You’re going to see a tough team, a disciplined team, a team that refuses to quit,” Hammock said. “We want to play well on offense, defense and special teams. We want to have systems that allow the players to play to the best of their abilities. To me, the better you are as a student, the better football player you can be, because it correlates. If I can trust you in a classroom, I can trust you on the field.”

Hammock’s NIU experiences as a student, as an athlete, as an assistant coach and as an alumnus, drive him as he enters the 2019 campaign with the defending MAC Champion Huskies.

“There’s a lot of pride that I have in this program and a lot of understanding of what has been done before to make the program what it is,” Hammock said. “Being an alumnus certainly affects the way I approach the job because obviously it means a lot more to me.”