DeKALB – For Jimmy Russell, playing football for Northern Illinois was always in the back of his head.
It began when the DeKalb native made the short trip and sat in the stands at Huskie Stadium with his parents when he was younger.
As his career as a defensive back with DeKalb High School came to a close, he had the opportunity to take his game to a lower level of college football.
But in Russell’s mind, that wasn’t an option. He wanted to be a Huskie, even if it meant playing without a scholarship and the Division-I level.
This spring, Russell’s opportunity is finally being realized, as he walked on at NIU this semester.
“Living in DeKalb my whole life, I’ve always wanted to play at NIU. It’s been a dream. Came to the games with my parents and always wanted to go here,” Russell told the Daily Chronicle. “Going through high school I always had it in the back of my mind. Senior year came around, things got going and I had the surgery, but before surgery I figured I wanted to try to walk on after surgery if they were going to give me another chance.”
Russell’s original plan was to walk-on last fall, but he wasn’t able to as he was recovering from shoulder surgery he had his senior year of high school. He suffered the injury his senior season, but played the whole year and was a Northern Illinois Big 12 all-conference selection.
He took classes at Northern during the fall and kept in contact with the coaching staff.
The walk-on opportunity was still available this semester.
“It was a blessing. They called me back, gave me a chance to walk on,” Russell said. “Just been competing from there.”
Russell said he had the opportunity to play college ball at the Division II and Division III levels, where the chance for earlier playing time would have been there.
But playing at NIU was always his dream said the 2013 DeKalb graduate. Russell is the first DeKalb athlete to compete with the Huskies since Andy Lothson since the early 2000s.
Russell has been getting second-team reps during camp. He’s jumped right into the action and has been getting used to the game speed.
“Jimmy’s a hard worker, he’s a great kid. He just joined us this semester so he’s really green in the system, just trying to learn the ins and outs of what we do in the secondary, and it takes awhile,” NIU defensive coordinator Jay Niemann said. “It’s no short process, but he’s got a great attitude, he’s a hard worker, he’s a physical guy. We just need to give him more time and more reps, and he’ll get better as we go.”