Sept. 24, 2012
By Michael Benson
NIU Media Relations Graduate Assistant
College football coaches constantly stress the importance of sticking with the program. From true freshmen redshirting in their first year on campus to upperclassmen waiting their turn for a spot in the starting lineup, they are told that the countless hours of practice, workouts and meetings will eventually pay off in the future.
For senior linebacker Victor Jacques, he is the epitome of the ‘sticking with the program’ mantra.
Jacques came to NIU as a fullback in Jerry Kill’s first recruiting class, though hardly heralded as a top-level signee for the Huskies that year.
After biding his time during his redshirt season, Jacques was asked to switch from fullback to linebacker, one of – if not the – most cerebral position on the defense. Jacques, though, was not opposed to the move.
“Since I came here so light, I thought it would be an easy transition,” he said. “It wasn’t easy being 210 and blocking people that are 260. Since I was able to run sideline to sideline and they lost a lot of depth at linebacker, they asked me to move to linebacker. I thought it would be a great fit, so I made the transition.”
“It was a little tough at first, but it came with time.”
Not only was he moving to the other side of the ball, but the Miami native had to learn the position from scratch. After all, he never played linebacker in his days at Christopher Columbus High School. Instead, he was solely on offense, where he would line up at fullback, tight end or H-back.
“More reading and getting downhill,” Jacques said of the adjustments he needed to make to play linebacker. “As an offense, you already know your keys, so you know where to go. As a defense, you have to read, then go and attack. Just the reading part took a little adjustment to get used to.”
As Jacques caught on, he impressed the coaches so much that he earned playing time at linebacker and on special teams – though he admits that it took almost a year to get fully comfortable at the position. During his redshirt freshman season, he played in 10 of the team’s 13 games and tallied five tackles, including two solo stops. That extended playing time, he felt, helped his confidence grow heading into 2010.
“It was something to start and keep building off of,” Jacques said. “Unfortunately, in camp, I got injured with a high ankle sprain. That kept me from competing at the level I wanted to. “
That injury would have a greater effect on the budding linebacker than first thought. Jacques saw his playing time wane as he watched his name fall down the depth chart. It actually came to a point where he did not play in any games in 2010.
Not on defense. Not on special teams. Not anywhere.
He simply watched from the sidelines as the Huskies stormed through the Mid-American Conference’s West Division and grabbed their first bowl victory since 2004 in convincing fashion.
As the season concluded, Jacques’ confidence was shattered. For some players, they may have given up and moved on to another school. After all, if his playing time was cut that far, who’s to say that it will get any better?
Jacques, though, knew that he had come too far to give up now.
“It was the commitment,” Jacques said. “I had invested so much time, it was really pointless to start all over again. I knew I could do something here. It would be a waste of time to go somewhere else.”
“I figured I was committed, so I might as well stay committed.”
Instead, he worked on his game to impress the new coaching staff and get his chance to see playing time again. In addition to strength & conditioning and practice, Jacques also spent extra time examining film and nailing down the mental part of the position to make himself a more well-rounded linebacker.
“All the linebacker core specifics are what I really worked on, so I could be clean on the field,” he said.
Did that extra work in the Yordon Center pay off? You bet it did.
Jacques reemerged on the Huskie linebacker scene in 2011 with a surprise season of sorts in the eyes of NIU fans. He played in all 14 games and posted 20 tackles during the championship season, with 15 of those stops coming in conference games. In addition, he also recorded six multi-tackle games – four of which occurred in the final six games of the 2011 campaign.
His coming out party came on November 25, when the Huskies hosted Eastern Michigan. Jacques posted a career-high four tackles in the game and played a big part in NIU’s defense during the 18-12 victory that clinched them a spot in the MAC Championship game.
“I played a great game,” Jacques said. “I played downhill. I was comfortable in the spot I was in.”
That season was not only an improvement on the stat sheet, but it also helped Jacques reestablished the confidence he had earlier in his career.
“It was a confidence boost,” he said. ”I know it took a little time, but hard work pays off eventually.”
Following the graduation of Pat Schiller and Jordan Delegal, it opened the door for Jacques to be the next person in line to take over at middle linebacker. Following a long offseason and some preseason injuries, he finally saw the fruits of his labor.
But Jacques did not become satisfied once he earned the starting gig in the middle of the defense.
“You can never say, ‘Just because I got the starting position, I’m satisfied,’” he said. “I’m not satisfied until I’ve reached the accomplishments that I wanted to take care of. Satisfaction is something that I keep out of my dictionary because you can never be satisfied until you’re done with the game or the game’s done with you.”
He has also shown a lot to the coaching staff, who have not seen many bumps during the transition between 2011 and 2012.
“He’s a senior right now, so it’s very important to him,” said linebackers coach Kevin Kane. “He’s able to bring that inspiration that’s important to the whole defense. He brings a sense of physicality that needs to be played at the middle backer. He embraces his role right now, which is good to see.”
Jacques also gives the coaching staff something that very few other players can: a message of what commitment and perseverance can do for any member of the Huskie football team.
“It’s all about patience,” Kane said. “Good things come to those who wait. Nothing’s given in college football. You have to go out and earn your stripes. The bottom line is the best are going to play. Sooner or later, guys are going to graduate and the next guy is going to have to step up and play. Vic’s waited his turn and he’s the best right now, so he’s going to play. It’s a great example of patience.”
As far as 2012 is concerned, though, Jacques has some high expectations for the year.
“Mainly to be a voice on the field,” he said. “I have to get everybody lined up. Get up and be a physical presence and make plays when they come my way.”
JACQUES’ JOURNEY TO NIU
As a native of Miami, some would wonder why anyone would want to come to DeKalb from the sunny south Florida shores, given the drastic differences in weather between the two locales. For Jacques, it was simple.
“Really, I wanted to see snow and experience something other than Miami,” he said. “Everywhere you go; it is a big culture shock, so I wanted to experience what else the world had in store.”
During his first winter at NIU, Jacques was hit with a feeling of confusion once he saw the white stuff falling for the first time in his life – a hard thought to fathom for any resident of the northern U.S.
”Is this real?” he remembered thinking to himself. “It was kind of confusing. It was just white rain I saw at first.”
The South Floridian soon realized the harsh reality of Midwest winters.
“Now I completely understand the Midwesterners dreading snow,” Jacques said. “I’m in the same boat with them. My hat is tipped to them. I don’t know how they live with this, but it was quite an experience to see it.”
To prepare for the cold weather, Jacques had to adjust his wardrobe completely. After all, he never had to deal with cold weather down south.
“First thing was to buy a coat and boots,” Jacques said. “Walking out there in regular shoes with two to four inches of snow isn’t helpful. I had to double up in everything so that the wind didn’t sink through and affect me.”
“If anything, we’ll own long sleeves in Miami and nothing else.”