The Great Communicator was born in Illinois but made his name in California, playing George "The Gipper" Gipp in "Knute Rockne, All American" decades before ascending to the White House.

Northwestern now has its own Ronald Reagan in the secondary.

His name: Davion Fleming. Born in California, he's making his name in Illinois.

"A great communicator," cornerback Nick VanHoose said.Cheap Nike Air Max "He's a loud talker and has great signals. That's all you need, really."

So maybe it's a stretch to compare an NU safety to the nation's 40th president. But, hey, it's election season, so play along.

And do not overlook the importance of a safety who can get all the defenders in proper coverage. Last year at Iowa, after Marvin McNutt caught a 35-yard touchdown pass with no Wildcats in the same zip code, cornerback Demetrius Dugar acknowledged that called-out "checks" left defensive backs unsure whether to play zone or man coverage.

"Communication," VanHoose said, "was a really bad thing for us last year."

Fleming, a redshirt junior who until now mainly has been used on special teams, said his strength is recognizing how offensive coordinators are trying to attack.

"I know what I'm going to get most of the time," he said. "I just have to trust my eyes."

NU's opener will represent a huge challenge for a secondary that lost starters Brian Peters, Jordan Mabin and Jeravin Matthews.

Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib threw for more yards (2,685) in 2011 than Donovan McNabb's most productive season (2,488) for the Orange, and coach Doug Marrone has had eight months to dig into the playbooks he used as the New Orleans Saints' offensive coordinator from 2006-08.

"We will see a lot of formation variations, shifting and motions," coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

And a whole lot of throws down the field.

"Definitely," VanHoose said. "We expect the first play out of the gate to be something deep."

Said Fleming: "I expect them to try us, from the very first play. We have to be on our P's and Q's and be ready to take the ball back for six."

Fleming grew up in Southern California, about 35 miles east of the Rose Bowl. He fit NU's profile as an honor roll student with a flaw (he's listed at 5-foot-10) that scared off the Pac-10 schools.

But Fleming said that even if Stanford had offered, he would have picked Northwestern.

"I always wanted to get away from home," he said. "I never did much traveling when I was little, so I thought coming to Chicago would be a good experience. I wanted to try things out on my own and get away from my parents."

Please don't take offense, Gerald and Glennetta Fleming.

"They know," Fleming said. "I told them plenty of times."

Fleming went by his middle name, Jerell, in his younger years. He finally embraced Davion (DAVEY-on) the same way he relishes being a starting safety for Northwestern.

"I took it," he said of his first name, "and I owned it."

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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