Lance Deveaux ready after being away from football for awhile

The+words+%27Play+Like+A+Huskie%22+on+the+front+side+of+Huskie+Stadium%27s+West+bleachers+Oct.+19%2C+at+Huskie+Stadium+in+DeKalb.

Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

The words ‘Play Like A Huskie” on the front side of Huskie Stadium’s West bleachers Oct. 19, at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

Mike Knapp, Reporter

DeKALB — Lance Deveaux is ready to play some football.

The wait to get the 2020 football season started has been a long one for everyone on the NIU football team, but for Deveaux, it’s been even longer. After missing the entire 2019 season due to a leg injury, the redshirt senior linebacker is back in the lineup and will be on the field when the Huskies take on the University at Buffalo Wednesday night at Huskie Stadium to start the 2020 season.

 Deveaux, who was an integral part of the 2018 Mid-American Conference Championship team, last played a snap for the Huskies in the 2018 Boca Raton Bowl. After finally being cleared to practice late last spring, Deveaux says he is in great shape and is looking forward to his final season in a Huskie uniform.

“It’s been a long recovery process, but I feel good,” Deveaux said. “Everything happens for a reason, now I’m back and ready to go.”

 Prior to his injury, Deveaux was primed to have a breakout year in 2019. After appearing in 18 games and recording a total of 34 total tackles during his first two seasons in DeKalb, Deveaux worked his way into the starting lineup in 2018 and appeared in a career-high 13 contests.

 He made an immediate impact in the season opener on the road against the University of Iowa, recording five tackles, then notched nine tackles in consecutive games against Ball State University, Florida State University and Central Michigan University. He finished the year with 67 total stops, fourth-best on the team, including five tackles for loss and two sacks, which led Phil Steele’s College Football Preview to name him to the 2019 preseason All-MAC fourth team.

Then came his injury which occurred just days before the Huskies were set to open the season against Illinois State University.

“[The toughest part mentally] was realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to play my senior season,” Deveaux said. “It was tough, especially since it happened right before the start of the year.”

 Deveaux’s injury was one of several that the Huskies suffered on the defensive side of the football, and he could only watch as NIU fell to a 5-7 record in Head Coach Thomas Hammock’s first season.

 Other than having some “nicks and bruises” that are part of playing football, this was the first time Deveaux had missed large chunks of a season dating all the way back to his high school career at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Pompano Beach, Florida, where he led his team to a 15-1 record and the Class 7A state title as a senior in 2014.

With an injury comes the grind of rehab, which in Deveaux’s case lasted several months. All the while, he tried to stay engaged with the players in the linebacker room, and adopted a new role: mentor to younger players.

“He’s done a good job letting the younger players know what they needed to do to prepare mentally and physically,” NIU linebackers coach Robert Wimberly said. “To have that type of experience in the room has been helpful.”

 Deveaux had always considered himself a quiet leader, preferring to let his work habits and play on the field set the example for his teammates. Now, as one of the true veterans on the squad, he’s not afraid to speak up when it’s necessary.

“Lance means a lot to our team, he brings a lot of experience and he knows how to face adversity, he’s one of those guys that can help us pull things together when things are going badly,” teammate and fellow linebacker Kyle Pugh said. “Lance has always been a playmaker on the field, but this year he’s becoming more of a vocal leader.”

Last fall did have one bright spot for Deveaux, as off the field he finished up his degree in psychology in December and began work on his master’s in sports management. When it comes to football, he’s still got some unfinished business.

Deveaux, who over the summer was named to the preseason All-MAC third team by Pro Football Focus, knows that his final year of college football will go by quickly. With the conference going with an all-“MACtion”, six-game slate this year, Deveaux and the Huskies know they have to hit the ground running for an opportunity to win a MAC title and move on to play in a bowl game.

Deveaux is more than ready. After all that he has been through, he can’t wait to run out onto the field Wednesday night and begin to make the most of it.

“I’m looking forward to getting out there with my brothers,” Deveaux said. “It’s been a long time coming, and I can’t wait to get out there and play for the guy next to me.”

Wednesday’s game with the Bulls will start at 6 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.