Jared McGee is making the most of his time in the Northwestern defensive backfield.
Even though he isn’t starting, McGee, a redshirt sophomore safety out of Mansfield Legacy, is ninth on the team in tackles with 25 and tied for first in interceptions with two.
“I still have a long way to go and a lot of things to work on, but I feel like I’ve progressed well and have the opportunity to become a good safety here,” McGee said.
McGee has worked each week to improve, even though he isn’t receiving many practice reps with the first-team defense. Instead, he follows along, making his reads and going through the motions.
“If you prepare the right way, when you get out on the field, it’s like you were the first-string all along, because you’ve prepared the right way mentally,” he said. “Sometimes I stand behind them and shadow them while the play is going on, working on my footwork.”
McGee injured his hamstring and missed eight games in 2015, but he’s played in all seven of Northwestern’s games this season. His weekly work is paying off. McGee’s most recent interception came Oct. 15 in a 54-40 road win against Michigan State.
Jared McGee was a first-team all-district selection at safety his senior season in 2013.
“The things our coaches are telling us in the film sessions and in practice have really helped me,” McGee said. “When I’m out there, I’m thinking back to everything they told me. I’m playing off my teammates and trying to help where I can. That’s when things fall into place.”
In addition to safety, McGee played quarterback at Legacy, a dual-role that has helped him in college.
“I see QB and safety as opposite positions on the field,” he said. “Quarterbacks make most of their reads based on what the safeties are doing. Being a free safety especially, I’m reading what the quarterback is doing. So we’re both reading each other. When I know from experience where the first and second looks will be from the offensive side, I know where to go in the defensive backfield.”
Northwestern started the season with disappointing home losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State. Since then, the Wildcats have won four of five, with the loss coming to Nebraska.
“We took two losses to teams we feel like we should have beaten,” McGee said. “When we didn’t get those wins, we had to look at ourselves and decide if that was the team we wanted to be. Coach [Pat Fitzgerald] challenged us to really come together.”
Northwestern heads into this Saturday’s game at No. 6 Ohio State as an underdog, but McGee and his teammates are fired up to face the challenge.
“Practice has really been intense,” McGee said. “Guys have been staying late to watch extra film and prepare for the looks we will get from Ohio State. I’m terribly excited. This is the type of game you dream about your entire life, playing peewee through high school. Now I’m on a stage where I get to play against thousands of people. Going to the Shoe is something every Big Ten player wants to do and try to beat Ohio State.”