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Top MAC Football Players of 2014: No. 23 Dechane Durante, Northern Illinois Safety

Expectations will meet performance for Dechane Durante in 2014 as he becomes the leader of the Huskies' secondary.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Playing along side an elite player can be a blessing. After all, it obviously makes your job easier. But the flip side to that is sometimes your play may get lost in their shadow.

Northern Illinois University safety Dechane Durante's play over the last three years has gone a little under the radar due to playing alongside All-American teammate Jimmie Ward. Now that Ward has moved on as a first round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, Dechane Durante's time for the spotlight is here.

A four-year starter, Durante played at a high level immediately. After sitting out his redshirt year, Durante played in all 14 games his first season on the field. He recorded 57 tackles, three interceptions and four passes defended.Two of his interceptions came during the biggest games of the year. Picking off Tyler Tettleton in the MAC Championship game, as well as returning an interception for a touchdown in the GoDaddy Bowl versus Arkansas State. Durante would be named to the Rivals MAC All-Freshman team.

His 2012 season was shortened by an ankle injury. The year was a slight setback in his progression. But he flashed his playmaking athleticism with this big-time interception in the MAC Championship game that propelled NIU to the Orange Bowl. His length and range are what  make him a special player.

Great interception in MAC Championship Game (via LiveFBCuts)

2013 was a bounce back year for Durante. He matched his 2011 numbers by posting 55 tackles, three interceptions, five passes defended and two forced fumbles. In NIU's two meetings against Big Ten opponents, Durante shined. He had two interceptions at Purdue, one of which he returned for a touchdown. He also had an interception at Iowa in a big opening season win that set the tone for the year.

This season we may see Dechane make the jump to the next level. He possesses a ton of physical ability. Equal to that of Ward's. Very agile for 6 foot 2 and 193 pounds, he has 4.5 second 40 yard speed. Durante has the kind of ball hawking and coverage skills that have become a huge asset at the safety position.  Plus he's a very solid tackler. If he can put it all together he'll have the kind of season that puts him on NFL draft radars.

Dane Brugler from had this to say about Durante: "When scouting Jimmie Ward last season, it was impossible not to notice Durante who was just as active and fast in the Northern Illinois secondary"

Dechane Durante should definitely get noticed plenty in 2014.  The spotlight is now his.