December 14, 2024 | The Historic Cramton Bowl

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December 14, 2024

9:00 pm ET/8:00 pm CT on ESPN

Montgomery, Alabama




Posted December 22, 2023

By Tim Gayle

Jacob Finley may not know a lot about Montgomery, but it certainly feels a lot like home for the Northern Illinois cornerback.

Finley, a former all-state player in high school at Hoover High, is back in his home state as he prepares for the Huskies’ meeting with Arkansas State on Saturday in the 10th annual Camellia Bowl at Cramton Bowl.

“Just to come back home, in general, is exciting,” Finley said. “I haven’t been home since July. To come back home and all of my family comes to the game for the first time is a blessing. I’m just going to show out in front of them.”

Finley sat through a redshirt season last year as Jordan Gandy and JaVaughn Byrd started at cornerback for the Huskies in a 3-9 season. The redshirt freshman moved into a starting role this fall, starting eight of the first nine games and is now splitting time with fellow redshirt freshman Amariyun Knighten.

“He’s a phenomenal player,” Northern Illinois coach Thomas Hammock said. “We were happy to get him. He started half the season as a redshirt freshman. Tremendous athlete, tremendous competitor and a guy that we hope we can keep in our program this day and age with the transfer portal.”

Hammock said Finley would have played more last season but had experienced players in front of him on the depth chart.

“Mentally, he was ready, further along than a lot of guys you see at that age,” Hammock said. “You can tell he came from a tremendous high school with great coaches. He had the fundamentals and technique.”

Finley was considering a Sun Belt Conference school before Northern Illinois entered the recruiting picture. An assistant coach with the Buccaneers, Preston Sanford, was friends with NIU cornerbacks coach Derrick Jackson.

“(Jackson) watched my film and he loved it,” Finley said. “I came up here in September of my senior year and I loved it. It’s just a great atmosphere, great coaches and a great team overall. I had about 16 offers, most of them G5 like Georgia Southern. It came down to a Sun Belt team and NIU, but I really felt that NIU was going to lead me to the place where my I wanted to be, my end goal, which is the NFL.”

Finley made strides this season, earning recognition as one of the Huskies’ “Freshman of the Year” honorees at the team’s annual banquet in December after recording 30 tackles with three pass breakups.

“From last year to this year, there is a big difference in the weight as well as the playbook and just being confident in general,” Finley said. “Last year, I wasn’t as confident, coming in as a freshman and trying to learn my way. This year, this is my year. I’m going to take over.”

He doesn’t have an interception yet in his young career, but there’s still one game left this season.

“I’m just ready to show I can make plays and make the big play on the ball,” he said of Saturday’s bowl matchup with the Red Wolves. “Hopefully, I come out with one.”

Individual statistics are nice, but Finley’s biggest goal is to show family and friends he made the right choice by celebrating a victory on Saturday afternoon.

“I just want to put a smile on their faces,” he said. “They’re coming an hour and 30 from Birmingham just to see us win. I really just want to get a win on Saturday.”