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Cornerback Jordan Mabin knows Northwestern’s seniors must step up

Northwestern cornerback Jordan Mab(26) intercepts pass TicketCity Bowl New Year’s Day against Texas Tech.  |  SharEllman~AP

Northwestern cornerback Jordan Mabin (26) intercepts a pass in the TicketCity Bowl on New Year’s Day against Texas Tech. | Sharon Ellman~AP

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Updated: November 2, 2011 5:32PM

Northwestern cornerback Jordan Mabin looked downtrodden as he sat on the dais on New Year’s Day in Dallas. The Wildcats had just lost their third consecutive bowl game, a 45-38 defeat at the hands of Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl, and coach Pat Fitzgerald was visibly upset, too.

The postgame news conference started mundanely enough — until Fitzgerald became angry at players in the junior class, such as Mabin. He ordered them to step up if they expected the program to win that elusive bowl game and get to the next level. Mabin probably saw the verbal slap coming.

‘‘He’s a passionate guy,’’ Mabin said of Fitzgerald. ‘‘He was speaking from the heart, and it was all true. To have a good year, it’s about your senior class. And he told us from the beginning that if we want to go where we want to go, it is dependent on our senior class.’’

The loss still stings eight months later, but at least it has given the senior class something to use as motivation. And that’s what Mabin and offensive lineman Al Netter are doing.

Netter took NU’s performance late last season harder than most. Once quarterback Dan Persa went down with his ruptured Achilles tendon, Netter said he failed as a leader because his partner in that role — Persa — wasn’t there.

‘‘I was more angry at myself because I couldn’t keep guys confident,’’ Netter said. ‘‘When you’re working with Dan, you balance things off of each other and lead together. But when he’s completely taken out of the picture, more responsibility is on you. I couldn’t handle it when everybody was looking to me for an answer.’’

The juniors met with Fitzgerald a week after the bowl game, and he lit into them again. Fitzgerald said he was heartbroken for his senior class and wasn’t happy about the way the season ended, especially because many juniors were on the field more than the seniors.

‘‘I wanted them to understand what the expectations are of the group,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘As a program, we failed.’’

Mabin said he has thought about how last season ended — three consecutive losses by a combined score of 163-88 — and said it helped him improve during spring practice and offseason workouts. He said it carried over to his teammates, who came out in higher numbers during the summer to lift weights and work out.

‘‘My first and second years, there were maybe 10 guys a day that showed up [to work out],’’ said Mabin, who led the Big Ten and was 12th nationally last season with 15 passes defended. ‘‘Now maybe there’s one guy missing at all positions. There’s maybe 15 freshmen this summer.’’

The Wildcats’ defense has nowhere to go but up after finishing last season ranked 10th in the Big Ten (ninth against the rush and 10th against the pass). Considering their coach is a former All-America linebacker, Mabin knows those numbers are embarrassing.

‘‘We definitely took that personally,’’ Mabin said. ‘‘We let things out of our control affect our play, and it was a downward spiral. But you have to learn from it and grow and not repeat it.’’

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