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NAPLES — Jhony Faustin had to take the junior college route to Division I football.
Now the Lely High School graduate is an important part of the Northern Illinois University secondary.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound sophomore is a backup cornerback who has played in every game and started once for the Huskies (2-3), who host Mid-American Conference opponent Kent State (1-4) on Saturday.
“Every time he’s getting in, he’s doing a good job producing in all areas,” Northern Illinois cornerbacks coach Richard McNutt said.
Faustin committed early to Purdue, which later pulled its scholarship offer when Faustin hadn’t qualified academically. So Faustin had to find another program and opted for Ellsworth Community College in Iowa, where he was a starting left cornerback, and kickoff and punt returner.
He led the 8-3 Panthers with 37 solo tackles and had 15 assisted tackles, according to the National Junior College Athletic Association online site. He had a team-high 14 breakups, one interception and one blocked kick. He had seven kick returns for a team-high 216 yards and two punt returns for 16 yards.
“He’s a pretty athletic kid,” said Mike Verdin, Ellsworth Community College's head football coach. “He’s kind of raw. He’s got that potential to be a very good football player.”
Faustin’s season for Ellsworth was a rewarding learning experience because he was responsible for covering the opponent’s best receiver. “It helped me a lot,” said Faustin, who had a season-high 14 tackles in the final game of 2010. “I got to go against some good receivers.”
He was a late qualifier to move onto a Division I program, Verdin said, so Faustin missed Northern Illinois’ spring camp. “I started learning the defense during the fall camp,” said Faustin, the Daily News Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. “I’m set on the playbook.”
Faustin, a sophomore, entered the season third at cornerback on the depth chart. McNutt said Faustin has been playing in all situations, not necessarily passing downs. “He’s a competitor first,” McNutt said. “He plays very fast. He has great ball skills.”
Faustin has 12 tackles for a defense ranked last out of 13 conference teams and 11th in the red zone. He started against Cal-Poly, when Northern Illinois opened the game with three cornerbacks in the secondary. In that win he had his season best of seven tackles, including stops with a teammate on consecutive fourth-quarter plays.
Northern Illinois head football coach Dave Doeren said Tuesday during his weekly press conference that Faustin will be playing more in the secondary rotation because he has been making plays.
Though Faustin was a top return man for Ellsworth, he isn’t a returner on special teams. “I’m going to try to do that next year,” he said.
Instead, Faustin has been a blocker on kickoff returns, the guy trying to tackle the returner on kickoffs and the cover man on the gunner during punt returns. The coaches award dog tags for outstanding special teams play in games, he said, and Faustin has received the tags twice.
Faustin has been happy with his performance. “I knew I could do it,” he said. “It didn’t come as a surprise to me.”
As Faustin continues to play more, McNutt said he expects him to have a bigger impact. “He has a good foundation upon which to build,” he said.