Brandon Johnson’s freshman baseball season at Northern Illinois University was shut down before it really had a chance to take off.
The former Rochelle Township High School student-athlete and two-time Northern Illinois Big 12 All-Conference utility player didn’t appear in any of the team’s first 17 games. Unfortunately, Johnson will have to wait until his sophomore campaign to enter the lineup, as the remainder of NIU’s 2020 season, along with all Huskie spring athletics, were canceled due to COVID-19.
“Having the season canceled due to the virus was extremely heartbreaking,” Johnson said. “We had a good team coming together and we were all looking forward to conference play and possible competing for a MAC Championship. Since the season was canceled, we also aren’t allowed to practice as a team, so I’m doing what I can to stay in shape and on top of my game.”
Regardless of the cancellation, Johnson said he has already formed good relationships with both his new coaches and his teammates. As Johnson prepares for his second season with the baseball program, he said his main focus will be on making continued all-around improvements. He also said that being in a larger program has motivated him to push harder for playing time.
“My experience here at NIU has been really good so far,” Johnson said. “I get along really well with the team and the coaching staff, and I’m looking forward to my future here. The biggest adjustments I had to make were getting acclimated to having a larger team and having to compete for opportunities to play. I feel like I’ve improved in almost every aspect of my game. Competing with high-level athletes has pushed me to become a better athlete.”
Johnson wasn’t the only RTHS graduate on the NIU team impacted by the COVID-19 cancellations. Former Hub pitcher Kyle Seebach had been progressing through his third season with the team, logging 14 strikeouts in 8.2 innings while allowing only five hits. His strongest outing came against Southeast Missouri on Feb. 21, when the 6-foot-8 left-hander hurled three scoreless frames while striking out four batters. Seebach opened his junior campaign with a three-strikeout performance in one inning against Boston College on Feb. 14.
“Initially, I was in absolute shock when I heard our season was canceled,” Seebach said. “I thought that it really couldn’t happen… My junior year has been really successful and fun. I love being with my teammates every day and I’m truly going to miss them in the weeks to come… Our season ended after we played some of the toughest opponents on our schedule, so our record doesn’t show how good we really were. I truly believed that we were going to make a run for the MAC Championship and even an NCAA Regional Championship.”
Seebach entered the 2020 season having recorded 25 relief appearances as a sophomore, totaling 36 strikeouts across 34.2 innings pitched. The former RTHS standout pitched for the Rockford Rivets this past summer, posting a 3.17 ERA and striking out 22 batters in 17 innings. Seebach will be looking to finish his Huskie career strong when his senior season opens in 2021.
“I felt like I really improved from my sophomore year to my junior year, especially with my confidence,” Seebach said. “Playing with the Rivets over the summer and working hard over the fall and winter really prepared me for the season, so I was really confident when the season began. I added about 5 miles per hour to my slider, which made its movement tighter and more difficult for hitters to pick up. I’m going to work out every day to get stronger and throw as much as I can to keep my arm strength up.”