CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- Brett McMakin's middle name is Strech -- the name fits him perfectly.
To hear the Northern Iowa linebacker tell it, "Strech" is a family name that's used by one of his uncles. Most of McMakin's UNI teammates call him Strech, which is pronounced exactly the same as the common word stretch.
"It's kind of my nickname," McMakin said.
Ignore the difference in spelling, and you also have a good description of McMakin's angular, 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame. The linebacker's size was no small asset when the Panthers played Iowa in the 2014 season opener.
McMakin posted a career-high 11 tackles, just one behind team leader Jake Farley. The sophomore from Overland Park, Kansas, also forced a fumble with help from cornerback Jamison Whiting.
McMakin's performance didn't help UNI win however as Iowa edged the Panthers, 31-23, at Kinnick Stadium. It did draw a nod of approval from Panther head coach Mark Farley.
"I thought he played well," Farley said. "He gets better each time he plays."
The UNI coach added, "We had to get big against Iowa, so we used him and he was very effective. We're looking forward to see how he progresses from here."
As far as McMakin was concerned, there's progress to be made.
"At the end of the game, the tackles were high and everything," he said. "I'm sure at the end of the day the stats were great, but I really could have done better than what the stat sheets showed."
UNI's defense showed something else last Saturday -- an aggressive, physical approach. To a certain extent, that style of play cost the Panthers, as defensive errors accounted for some of the 16 penalties totaling 128 yards.
Farley said some interference calls were inevitable, as the Panthers secondary relied heavily on man-to-man defense against a talented Hawkeye receivering core. Other penalties, such as false starts, delays of game and personal fouls, could not be so easily excused.
Unhappy as he may have been with the penalties, Farley wants his team to keep that aggressive edge.
"Really, the aggressiveness is good," he said. "We were all aggressive and physical. We were kind of happy that we were the attacker, the aggressor in this [Iowa] game. We really have to be accountable for all those [penalties]. Sure there were a few [penalities] that were iffy or whatever, but, at the end of the day, most of the penalties were our fault."
A year ago, McMakin found himself playing reserve on UNI's defensive front seven. When multiple injuries forced some reshuffling of personnel, he earned a starting spot that was part lineman, part strong outside linebacker.
Call McMakin's role what you will but the experience of being a regular in the Panthers' final four games of last season proved invaluable.
"I guess I'm now just an outside backer. I'll play wherever they put me -- where they need me. There are quite a few players like that on our team, too," he said. "We've got a few people that are flexible like that and can play many positions. That's what makes our defense."
Next for the Panthers is a road test at Hawaii this Saturday.
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