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2023 Northern Illinois Huskies Positional Previews: Defensive backs

NIU’s secondary struggled last season but will hope to turn things around in 2023.

Northern Illinois v Kentucky Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Over the past few seasons the Northern Illinois Huskies secondary has been one of the position groups that has struggled the most.

Last year, the secondary allowed 252.8 passing yards per game which was the most they’ve allowed since 2013 and was ranked 101st in the NCAA. They gave up 32 passing touchdowns (compared to just 14 rushing TDs) and their passing efficiency defense was ranked 126th out of 131 teams. Their eight interceptions was tied for 98th in the NCAA and, in 2021, they managed to intercept just three passes (two of which came in the MAC Championship Game against Kent State).

NIU also couldn’t get themselves off the field, as they allowed opponents to convert 43.9 percent of their third down attempts (116th in the NCAA and second worst in the MAC) and a whopping 63.6 percent of their fourth down attempts (115th in the NCAA and second worst in the MAC).

However, after a year of experience and some new faces joining, the young secondary will look to improve this season.


2021 Cure Bowl - Northern Illinois v Coastal Carolina Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images


  • Eric Rogers (transferred to Rutgers)
  • Jordan Gandy (transfer portal)
  • Zeke Williams (transferred to Purdue)


  • Gabriel Amegatcher (transfer from Nebraska-Kearney)
  • Owen Belman (transfer from Iowa Western)
  • Cam’Ron Dabney (transfer from Kansas)
  • Mahki Rolle (incoming recruit)


  • Javaughn Byrd
  • Andre Cobb
  • Jacob Finley
  • Amariyun Knighten
  • Jashon Prophete

The Huskies have nine cornerbacks listed on their roster, with four freshmen, four juniors, and a single senior.

Javaughn Byrd and Jashon Prophete return for the Huskies and have the most experience in DeKalb.

Last year Byrd, a junior, started six games last season and played in eight games and, prior to that, he started seven games in 2021 after being a backup for the first seven. Byrd’s 38 stops last season was eighth best on the team and he also added three pass break ups, two TFL, and half a sack.

Prophete, also a junior, saw action in all 14 games in 2021 and in seven games last season. He tallied 16 tackles, two TFL, two sacks, a QB hurry, and a pass break up last season and had 27 tackles and a PBU in 2021.

While Byrd and Prophete might have the most games played at NIU, Cam’Ron “Shaad” Dabney will most likely get a starting spot. The former Kansas Jayhawk joins the Huskies as a junior this season. In his two years in Lawrence, he played in 23 games and netted 12 stops and two PBU. He should have no problem keeping up with the receivers in the MAC and will hopefully become a shutdown corner for NIU this season.

Gabriel Amegatcher is the lone senior cornerback and joined the Huskies from Nebraska-Kearney. He started all eleven games last year for UNK and built up some nice stats: 18 tackles (seven solo), eight pass break ups, a TFL, and a forced fumble. The year prior, he played in 13 games and finished the season with 11 tackles, three pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, and an interception.

Owen Belman, the final transfer at CB, is a junior who recently played at Iowa Western where he had five tackles and forced a fumble last season en route to his team winning the NJCAA National Championship.

Andre Cobb, Jacob Finley, and Amariyun Knighten are all redshirt freshmen for Northern. Cobb redshirted last season and saw no action while Finley played in four games and made a start against Ball State. In his one start, he tallied four tackles and a pass break up. Of the three, Knighten saw the most action last year. He also played in four games, starting one, but was able to make 15 tackles and break up two passes in his time on the field.

The lone new recruit for NIU is Mahki Rolle. Rolle, a six-foot-one freshman from Miami, Florida, was a two-way player that also started at QB in high school.


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  • Jordan White (graduated)


  • DaRon Gilbert (transfer from Lafayette)
  • Santana Banner (incoming recruit)
  • Tyler Gentile (incoming recruit)
  • Ethan Tierney (incoming recruit)


  • CJ Brown
  • Muhammed Jammeh
  • Cyrus McGarrell
  • Trey Porter
  • Nate Valcarcel

Just as with cornerbacks, the Huskies have nine safeties listed. The younger group consists of four freshmen, two sophomores, a junior, and a pair of seniors.

CJ Brown will return as one of NIU’s starting safeties. Brown, a senior, was the leading tackler for the Huskies a year ago; netting 76 total stops, five PBU, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. His efforts got him named to the second team All-MAC squad by both the MAC coaches and Phil Steele last season. And to start 2023, he was named as a second team player on the preseason All-MAC lists from Athlon and Phil Steele.

DaRon Gilbert, a transfer from Lafayette, is the other senior on this year’s squad. While at Lafayette, he was an All-Patriot League player in both 2022 and 2021. Last season he totaled 54 tackles (35 solo), four passes defended, and had an interception.

Muhammed Jammeh returns this season as a redshirt sophomore for NIU. Last season he played in eleven games and started six for the Huskies where the tallied 25 tackles (eight solo) and had an interception and a pass break up.

Nate Valcarcel, now a junior, was just named the Huskies’ most improved player on defense. He has played in the previous 26 games, although almost exclusively on special teams, and racked up ten total tackles last season and had five solo stops the year before.

This is the fifth in a series of NIU football previews, with our final upcoming piece addressing the specialists. Please look forward to that! If you missed any of the previous parts, you can catch up on all of our preseason stories here.

Northern Illinois will kick off their season on Saturday, September 2nd at 12 p.m. Eastern time against ACC foe Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.