Jimmie Ward

Northern Illinois Huskies defensive back Jimmie Ward (15) breaks up a pass for Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Rashad Greene (80) in the 4th quarter in the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune / January 1, 2013)

MOBILE, Ala. -- Jimmie Ward chuckled about it.

He wasn’t selected to play in the Alabama-Mississippi high school football all-star game but here he was late Monday afternoon after the North’s practice for Saturday’s Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium preparing to play in the top college showcase leading up to the NFL draft.

The Northern Illinois safety was on the small side at the weigh-in Monday morning, measuring 5-10 3/8 and 191 pounds but he knew what the numbers were going to be and he’s been proving people he’s plenty big enough for a while now. He actually played at 180 this past season. Ward’s more well known Huskies teammate Jordan Lynch was a Heisman Trophy finalist, but the safety might garner more attention as a pro prospect.

He was a first team All-MAC selection this past season when he led NIU with 95 tackles and made seven interceptions. He’s listed as a strong safety but projects more as a free safety. He needs his ballhawking skills to make a successful transition to the next level.

“I knew what I was going to weigh,” said Ward, who has been working with a nutritionist since the college season ended. “Basically, I have to come out here and make plays. I have to come out here one day at a time and show them that I can compete with the best in the nation. I am confident I can make that happen.”

It’s premature to start figuring a range for Ward in the draft but he could certainly be a mid-round selection.

“Everything is going to handle itself as long as I come out here and play hard and give it my best down the line,” he said.

The game is a homecoming for Ward, who played at Davidson High in Mobile. While Mobile native A.J. McCarron, the Alabama quarterback, passed on a Senior Bowl invite, Ward knew this was a chance for tremendous exposure. He played here with the Huskies in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in 2012. He played at the stadium several times in high school but couldn’t get any schools to recruit him. His coaches put together a highlight tape and sent it to every school in the country. NIU called on him and that is how he made it from here to DeKalb.

Ward met with the Packers, Falcons and Texans on Sunday night. Before the pre-draft process is completed, he will probably visit with every team.

“The buzz the past two seasons was about Jordan Lynch but if you came to watch a game you saw the defense and you wondered what they have on defense,” Ward said. “Well, you saw a guy stand out. That is what really got me on the map. Shout out to Jordan Lynch. He is my guy. Everyone has a different route.”

Ward’s route has brought him back home to the Senior Bowl.

bmbiggs@tribune.com

Twitter @BradBiggs