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Damien Proby starting at middle linebacker for Northwestern

Northwestern University against Penn State University 2011

Northwestern University against Penn State University 2011

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Updated: November 29, 2011 8:15AM



When Northwestern linebacker Damien Proby was a high school recruit, he took an official visit to Evanston and spent time with linebacker David Nwabuisi. The two got along well, and that relationship solidified Proby’s decision to accept the Wildcats’ scholarship offer.

Fast-forward to this week, and good friends Proby and Nwabuisi are vying for the middle-linebacker spot — with Proby edging out his buddy so far. Proby, a sophomore, started last week against Penn State ahead of Nwabuisi, a junior. And he is listed as the starter on the depth chart for NU’s game Saturday at Indiana
(11 a.m., BTN, 720-AM).

‘‘It’s an exciting adventure,’’ Proby said. ‘‘I plan on making the most out of it, and you can’t let yourself get nervous. You get to the games, and that should be the most comfortable you are all week. You should try to have fun with your brothers out here.’’

Coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff had to do something to rattle the cage, and the change at linebacker might help. The Wildcats (2-5, 0-4 Big Ten) have given up an average of 39 points in their four conference games.

Fitzgerald and his staff like Proby in the middle, even though Nwabuisi leads the team with 54 tackles. Proby has 19, including a career-high six in NU’s 34-24 loss last week to the Nittany Lions.

‘‘Damien is a physical guy and plays well fundamentally, and that is where our biggest issue lies on defense,’’ Fitzgerald said.

Proby, a 6-1, 235-pounder, said playing for the Wildcats was his first choice all along, but bonding with Nwabuisi certainly helped.

‘‘They were my first offer, and we were excited about it,’’ Proby said. ‘‘I came here and visited with the guys, and I was with Nwabuisi on my visit. There was a strong bond on the linebacking corps from the beginning.’’

Linebackers coach Randy Bates said Proby has handled the transition of moving from one of the outside spots to the middle well. He said Proby is more of a traditional middle linebacker, bigger and more physical, while Nwabuisi is more athletic.

Bates is convinced, too, that most of NU’s players are overthinking and overanalyzing the defense.

‘‘We’ve lost five in a row, so I’m thinking [the changes] will help the chemistry,’’ Bates said. ‘‘It comes to the point where some guys have to make plays, and we have to bring other guys in.

‘‘[Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli] talks about putting blinders on and seeing your little part of the field. Young guys sometimes see everything, and then they see nothing.’’

With the changes made at linebacker and in the secondary — Jeravin Matthews has been replaced by Demetrius Dugar at right cornerback and David Arnold is starting instead of Ibraheim Campbell at one safety spot — there’s hope the Wildcats can break their losing streak Saturday.

‘‘We all know the calls,’’ Proby said. ‘‘We have to become confident and believe in each other. .  .  . It’s come down to that.’’



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