Aug. 8, 2013
Over the next two weeks, NIUHuskies.com will preview every position on the 2013 Northern Illinois football team, beginning today with the safeties. In addition, sign up for Huskies All-Access to see a video breakdown of every position with interviews and practice highlights. The video will be available within 24 hours after the article is posted. Monday's position group: the offensive line.
DEKALB, Ill. -- With 41 combined starts already under their belt, the duo of Jimmie Ward (Mobile, Ala./Davidson) and Dechane Durante (Charlotte, N.C./Vance) help make safety one of the biggest strengths of the 2013 Northern Illinois football team. The pair forms a security blanket for the Huskie defense that makes third-year defensive coordinator and safeties coach Jay Niemann smile.
"It's great," Niemann said. "We have Dechane Durante and Jimmie Ward; those two guys have been in the system for two years now, so they are familiar with all of our checks and how we handle formations. They are doing a nice job leadership-wise with the young guys, helping them learn the system."
Niemann notes that one of the added benefits of the experience at safety has been the ability to change the way things are presented in camp.
"The thing we are doing is feeding them a little more early in camp compared to past years where we have spread it out a little bit more," Niemann explained. "They are digesting more information quicker because they have been through it for a couple of years."
A two-year starter and two-time All-MAC selection, Ward anchors the backend of the Huskie defense from the strong safety spot. Last season, Ward led the Huskies in tackles with 104 stops, including 65 solo efforts, while also picking off three passes. Ward was named NIU's Defensive Skill Player of the Week four times a season ago and also earned MAC Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording 10 tackles, two pass break-ups and an interception against UT Martin.
Jimmie Ward is kind of a hybrid because he actually started here as a corner, so he has really good coverage skills for a safety," said Niemann. "We feel like we can put him on any receiver and we are confident that he will be able to cover that guy man-to-man."
Along with the position change, Ward has also seen his mindset change from earlier in his Huskie career.
"The last couple of years I have been working on myself but now, as a senior, I can finally lead the team," said Ward. "Now, in order for me to feel like I am playing my best, my team has to play its best, so I try to get the young guys ready and make sure they know what they have to do."
At free safety, Durante appeared in nine contests a season ago, making seven starts while being sidelined due to injury for five games in the latter half of the season. After recording three interceptions in 2011, Durante had just one in 2012, but it was a memorable one as his acrobatic catch along the sidelines in the second quarter of the MAC Championship game helped set up a Huskie touchdown.
"Dechane is more of a middle field safety," said Niemann. "He does a good job playing the football in the air and covers a lot of ground. He is a good open field tackler, helps us get checks in and gets us lined up."
Behind Ward and Durante are two more familiar faces in the Huskie secondary as sophomore Marlon Moore (Mobile, Ala./C.F. Vigor) and senior Dominique Ware (Bolingbrook, Ill./Plainfield North) begin camp as backups at strong and free safety, respectively.
Moore appeared in 12 games as a true freshman in 2012, including six starts, playing primarily at corner. In his first career start against Buffalo, Moore had a pair of interceptions while also registering a pass break up and five tackles.
Ware has been a durable player during his time at NIU, playing in all 14 games in each of the last two seasons; Ware made 29 total tackles last season and had a trio of pass break ups.
Further down the depth chart, Niemann has also liked what he has seen from four newcomers in camp.
"We brought four new freshmen into the system. Brandon Mayes from right down the road at Aurora Christian is doing a good job. Mycial Allen, he is a Detroit guy, he is doing a nice job for us as well. Justin Corbett from Lincolnway, not down the road too far in the Chicago area, he is playing well for us, and Jackson Abresch from up in Wisconsin. They are four young safeties that have a real promising future for us in the program."
The Huskies open the 2013 season at Iowa Aug. 31st while the home opener against Eastern Illinois is set for Sept. 21st. Season and single game tickets for Northern Illinois' 2013 home schedule are on sale now. The new Huskieland Plan, which includes a ticket to all five home games (sections A and G) and $50 in Doggie Dollars good for parking and/or concessions, is just $50. All remaining season ticket locations for the 2013 Huskie Stadium home slate are just $100 while NIU Alumni Association members, senior citizens (62+), youth (3-13), NIU Varsity Club (former letterwinners) members and faculty and staff can see every game for just $88. Season tickets are available by calling NIU Athletics at 815-753-PACK (7225), or go online to www.NIUHuskies.com/tickets for complete information and order forms.
Single game tickets are priced at just $15 for seating in the upper rows of sections A and G in Huskie Stadium, while seats in sections B, F and lower A and G are $24 for the general public and $18 for senior citizens (ages 62 and over) and youth (ages 3-13). Seats in section C, D and E, as well as seats on the East Side, are just $30 for the general public and $20 for senior citizens and youth. Single game tickets for the five-game home schedule can be purchased through the NIU Athletics Ticket Office in the Convocation Center, online via Ticketmaster and NIUHuskies.com and on the phone by calling 815-753-PACK.