Izayah Green-May, a senior defensive end at NIU, helps move equipment with Ray Thomas, a junior defensive end, on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, at a Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity Construction site. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Football players from Northern Illinois University took over a nonprofit’s home construction site on Wednesday as part of a service project that allows them to give back and learn real-world skills.

More than 110 players from NIU’s program volunteered with Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year. As the heat index rose above 100 degrees, they worked alongside other Habitat volunteers in south Rockford on eight homes, handing everything from framing a house to setting a sub-floor, installing insulation, hanging doors and windows, putting up siding and doing site cleanup and landscaping.

“Sometimes as football players you get so consumed with football and yourself,” head coach Thomas Hammock said. “For us as coaches, we have to get them to think outside of themselves, to think about other people. To think, ‘How can you be a servant?'”

Related: NIU coaches say they have eyes out for athletic talent in Rockford

Hammock participated in Habitat programs while in high school, and was looking for an opportunity to get his players involved.

“For us, building a complete team and building complete men is what we want to do in our program,” he said. “Football is going to come to an end at some point in time, and then you have to get into the real world. I want them to have real world experiences to be able to maneuver in different environments.”

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Eric Rogers, a junior cornerback at NIU, and James Ester, a senior defensive tackle, measure and cut siding on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, at a Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity build site. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

Rockford Habitat has nine houses under construction, and two will be sold in the next month or so. The other seven will be worked on throughout the year. Keri Asevedo, executive director of Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity, told the players about how their efforts will help families afford to buy their first homes and change their lives for generations to come.

“To see people move into a house you built, that has to touch your heart somewhere,” said Christian Nash, a freshman running back who came to NIU from Omaha, Nebraska.

The program is intended to give access to homeownership to people who could not otherwise afford their first property. Recipients must pay 30% of their monthly gross income as mortgage.

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Christian Nash, a freshman running back at NIU, installs siding on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, on a Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity home. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
Related: ‘A powerful feeling’: Construction starts on future Rockford Habitat homes

NIU reached out to Rockford Habitat to see if there was a volunteer opportunity, and the organization took them up on the offer. It’s the largest volunteer crew they’ve had on site, Asevedo said. Habitat’s “weekday wonders” – the name for its regular volunteer work team – helped coach the players through the measuring, cutting, hammering and other construction work.

“There’s something really powerful about watching college students give back and see what it’s like to be part of an organization that changes the world,” Asevedo said.

Asevedo hopes players are inspired to work for or support Habitat in the future because of Wednesday’s volunteer day. She, like many of the players, was 19 and in college her first time on a Habitat site.

“This changed my life when I was in college,” she said. “I have never looked back, and there is a possibility that there is a young man here today that 25 years from now could be me, and that is so amazing for me to think.”

Northern Illinois University football players move a ladder Wednesday, June 15, 2022, across a Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity build site. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at khaas@rockrivercurrent.com or follow him on Twitter at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas.

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