CHICAGO – Northern Illinois won't have the pleasure of having No. 6 under center this year.
The Huskies also no longer will have the luxury of fast, big-hitting No. 15 in the defensive backfield.
Jordan Lynch is a running back with the Chicago Bears, and Jimmie Ward was a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in May. Both leave big voids for a Huskies football team that looks to win its fifth straight Mid-American Conference West title.
"I've said this, as good as Jordan was for us on offense last year, Jimmie was equal, if not better, on defense," NIU coach Rod Carey said Monday at NIU's annual Chicago Media Day. "I know [Bufalo linebacker Khalil Mack] got MAC Player of the Year, but I think Jimmie could have gotten it as easy because he played that well, and he's that gifted. When you get those things going together, I think he's going have a great career going forward."
One player in NIU's defensive backfield who will be left to help fill the void of Ward is a familiar face – senior Dechane Durante, a starter since his freshman season. After missing five games because of injury as a sophomore, Durante was sixth on the team with 56 tackles a year ago, and second to Ward in interceptions with three.
Now, he's an even more important piece to the Huskies defense.
"We kind of played on a rope, if you know what I mean," Durante said of playing with Ward. "We were on the same page all the time. Like I said, just competing. We came in together (in 2010), we battled together. I'm just kind of going to go in, making my own name for myself this season."
Last season, staying healthy for the entire season was a step in the right direction for Durante. This season, he hopes to reach that next level.
"This year, it's just taking that next step, staying healthy all season and making more plays," he said. "That comes with more tackles, more interceptions, more forced fumbles. Anything I can do to help this team win."
When the 2014 campaign is over, Durante very well could be following in Ward's footsteps and making his own NFL path. The Sporting News ranked him as the MAC's top draft prospect, and CBS Sports draft analyst Dane Brugler listed him as one of five prospects to watch in the conference this season.
"It's hard not to pay attention to it, with Jimmie going first round," Durante said. "But I'm my own player. I've got to go out and play my last season. It's definitely on my mind, but first task is the first game, Aug. 28 (against Presbyterian). I've got a long season ahead of me, so I'm just worried about staying healthy and playing each game, one at a time."