Most Valuable Wildcats — No. 10: Damien Proby

With his consistent solid play, Damien Proby earns the No. 10 spot in our list of Most Valuable Wildcats.

This Northwestern spring season, Damien Proby rested during one of the morning practices. Still, as the linebackers went through drills, Proby barked out drills to his teammates. It was an admirable display of leadership, and demonstrated how valuable the rising senior middle linebacker is to this team.

In 2012, Proby ranked eighth in the Big Ten with 8.6 tackles per game. One season after Ibraheim Campbell led the team in that department, the linebackers took it upon themselves to change the tone. Really, Campbell's 100 overall tackles exposed the unit. They wanted to prevent running plays from reaching the second level, and eventually succeeded.

David Nwabuisi–who will be missed by the media–mentioned the internal competition between linebackers and safeties. Nwabuisi had some memorable outings last season, including the 18-tackle shutdown effort against Iowa. As a whole, the linebackers impressed. Nwabuisi set the bar for senior leadership, Chi Chi Ariguzo emerged as a playmaker, and Proby excelled.

Proby, though, made an impact with his consistency. He never forced a fumble and never snagged an interception. But his impact was felt across the field, especially in some of the finer moments. He had 30 tackles (22 solo) combined against Indiana and Penn State. Against Michigan State, he added 12 more.

Pat Fitzgerald beat out several West Coast schools to sign Proby, then a hyped Cheyenne (Nev.) target. The linebacker was forced to work his way up the depth chart—a staple of NU players. He redshirted and then primarily contributed to the special teams unit in his first full season.

The breakout arrived when Proby earned his first start against Penn State in 2011. He demonstrated his consistency over the latter half of the season, and forced a fumble against Texas A&M. The force that was last year's linebacking corps will certainly be missed, but with Proby returning, we're expecting an easier learning curve.

Collin Ellis should earn an outside linebacker role due to his experience. Some new names could emerge as well, with Eric Wilson one of the Wildcats' sleeper impact players after his excellent spring. But much of the team's defensive success begins in the middle. With Proby manning the area, NU fans can be confident moving forward.

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