It would take more than a broken index finger to sideline senior safety Jimmie Ward for the first three football games this season.
In order to play, NIU’s leading tackler from 2012 had to put his left hand in a hard cast. While the cast might have caused problems for other players, Ward didn’t miss a beat.
Ward has picked up right where he left off last season, leading the team in tackles with 30, 21 of them solo tackles, also the most on the team.
“Since I’m a senior and I’m a leader on this defense, you know, I gotta step up,” Ward said. “Whether it’s with a cast or without a cast, it doesn’t matter, I just gotta be that role, I gotta be that model to help guide these younger players.”
Safeties coach Jay Niemann worked with Ward early in the season to get him comfortable playing with the cast.
“I tried to get him out of some contact-oriented drills early when we were trying to get the bone to start to repair,” Niemann said. “So we took him out of inside run drills, and a few of those things where there are a lot of collisions going on and tried to scale him back. Once the trainers were comfortable and the bone was starting to set we put him back in and got him going again.”
The cast hasn’t kept Ward from picking off the quarterback either, as Ward leads the Huskies with two interceptions.
“Basically, they just threw me the ball like I didn’t have a cast on,” Ward said. “[Coach] Niemann, he really helped me out. He’s basically been throwing it to me, he told me to make sure I just clamp it on the cast to help me catch.”
As successful as Ward has been with the cast on in the first three weeks of the season, Ward got the cast off this week. He will practice all week with it off and be ready for Purdue on Saturday.
Niemann didn’t think the cast held Ward back on the field but is glad the player is finally getting the cast off.
“I’m sure he would tell you that it was a nuisance and all those types of things,” Niemann said. “But I really didn’t see a dropoff in his play or his ability to catch the football. I mean, he’s had a couple of interceptions with the cast on. Now that he’s gotten it off, hopefully that ... means it’ll be as good or better.”
Ward is excited to have the cast off and is ready to see what he can do when NIU faces Purdue on Saturday.
“Man, it feels too good,” Ward said. “I feel light on my feet; my hands feels better. I just gotta wait until we get into the game to see how my hand is going to do. But I feel like, you know, I’ve been catching balls today, people keep encouraging me, telling me I’m looking good so everything’s been positive.”