DeKALB – Jimmie Ward had a goal to be an All-American.
He’s actually had it since before his junior year in 2012.
Tuesday, everything finally came to fruition, as the Northern Illinois’ senior safety was named an Associated Press third-team All-American.
Ward finished the season with a team-high 89 tackles and six interceptions.
Last season, Ward was a first-team all-Mid-American Conference selection and was a second-team All-MAC pick as a sophomore in 2011.
When asked about the difference in his play, both Ward and NIU head coach Rod Carey mentioned one thing: leadership.
“It’s amazing, once you get that leadership thing going, everything else kind of fits in too and your play goes to that next level,” Carey said.
Last season, Ward said it was defensive end Sean Progar and linebacker Tyrone Clark who filled the main leadership roles on the defense. This year, Ward felt it was something he needed to do. He started taking control, telling people where they fit in. He worked at his safety position, but learned other positions in a system he’s been getting more and more comfortable in under third-year defensive coordinator Jay Niemann.
“When you take responsibility for the younger guys and you take responsibility for teaching, all of the sudden you teach it,” Carey said. “That means you know it better and you play better.”
It helps that Ward already has experience at three different positions. He lines up at the nickel spot when the Huskies bring in an extra defensive back because he’s a good tackler and possesses the ability to cover receivers. The Mobile, Ala. native said he’s lined up as a defensive end at times, too.
“So, basically I’m learning and I don’t really realize it until I actually think about it,” Ward said. “That really helped me out too.”
Following the Poinsettia Bowl, Ward plans on going down to Pensacola, Fla., roughly an hour away from his hometown on the Gulf Coast, to start preparing for the NFL Draft. On Jan. 25, Ward will participate in the Senior Bowl in his hometown.
“It’s going to be a treat,” he said. “It’s nice, it’s an experience. I came up, since I was little, watching the game. I get to play in it, so that’s the big grand finale for everybody down that way. ... It’s a dream come true.”