DETROIT – Devin Webster struggled to put words together after making his first start at defensive tackle for Northern Illinois in the 2017 Quick Lane Bowl vs. Duke at Ford Field.
Webster was part of NIU’s defensive line rotation all year, but made his first career start Tuesday as the Huskies were without starters Ben LeRoy and William Lee due to injury and personal reasons.
He finished with three tackles and recovered a Duke fumble in the third quarter. Minor contributions at first glance, but for Webster, earning his first start meant everything in the world.
“It’s been crazy. I don’t have words for it,” he said.
Webster transferred to NIU from Arizona Western College as a junior in 2017. After recording 42 tackles, including 13 solo stops at Arizona Western, Webster said he still struggled to get looks from Division I coaches.
Then the Huskies came knocking on his door. Once he arrived on campus this year, though, more hurdles came his way.
“I did my two years of junior college and was fighting to get a Division I offer,” he said. “I got NIU and then I faced adversity with classes coming into NIU. … But coach Carey and (NIU’s coaching staff) stuck around me. Having the opportunity to make my first collegiate start today was a blessing.”
Whether it was the early 6 a.m. lifts, various morning classes or late 8 p.m. practices, Webster was forced to adjust to a more rigorous schedule.
He relied on Bobby Jones and Lee for advice. He began to choke up when attempting to thank them for their help following the Quick Lane Bowl.
“It means the world just to be on the field with these guys,” Webster said. “Some of the greatest guys I’ve ever met in Bobby Jones and a bunch of the seniors. It’s a pleasure, I learned a lot from William Lee – he showed me the ropes and how things go around here.”
Webster concludes the 2017 season with 10 tackles with seven solos. He appeared in 11 games, and said he expects to produce at a higher level during his final year next season with the Huskies.
During NIU’s final two games this year, it fell short of tying for a MAC West Championship and winning its first bowl game in nearly six years. Lee said that’s going to change in 2018.
He said, “You’re going to see us in Detroit next year. I promise you. This next senior class. As soon as we come back in two weeks as a team, we’re really going to start working. I promise you, we’re going to be in the MAC Championship and a good bowl.”