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    Behind the Scenes at Big Ten Football Media Days

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    The Big Ten Conference held its 40th annual Big Ten Football Media Days this past Thursday and Friday, July 28-29, at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago. Here are a couple of quick behind-the-scenes thoughts following the event:

    • A record number of media attended this year (the exact figure escapes me, but it was more than 500). This was due in large part to the addition of Nebraska to the conference and their media's exuberance in taking in all things Big Ten. At Thursday's coaches session with the print media that was broadcast live on the Big Ten Network and ESPNU, the right wall of the room had to be moved out from its position last year to accommodate the extra interest.

    • As has been a long-standing tradition because of our proximity to the festivities, a member of the Northwestern Athletic Communications staff moderates that opening coaches session each year. After veteran moderator Julie Dunn handled those duties the last three years, the honor fell to me this season. The last time I served in that capacity was circa 2007 when the Big Ten Network was much more fledgling and the media hoard much smaller. Sitting on the podium, it was pretty neat to see the back of the room fill in when JoePa took the stage and to see how many in the media largely stopped taking notes and paid rapt attention to Commissioner Jim Delany's comments. It is safe to say that each coach commands his own presence and has a style that both defines and embodies his program. It will be interesting to see how those programs with new coaches shift in the image of their new leaders. We here in Evanston have gone through that transition with Coach Fitz the past five years and it's pretty obvious that this is Pat Fitzgerald's Northwestern.

    • Because of those moderating duties, I wasn't able to be around our guys at all on Thursday, but I did spend Friday morning's one-on-one session with them. At this session, all 12 Big Ten coaches and the three players from each team sit at their own individual tables while media come visit with them inside of a two-hour window. Right from the start, Coach Fitz and Dan Persa's tables were two of the most busy in the entire room. That's not to say Al Netter and Jordan Mabin didn't get their fair share of talking in; Al told a couple of great stories dealing with his ASB service trip to Guatemala two years ago and his ill-conceived Halloween costume choice last year (he quickly learned that in the country he ordered it from, extra large does mean the same thing it means here in the states. It was a...cozy costume).

    • Is Dan Persa 100 percent? That's the question I heard asked in about 100 different ways to all four NU representatives. The answers depended on the point-of-view of the source, but the gist is this: Danny is eight months in to what for a normal human being is a 12-to-14 month recovery. Being an athlete in the amazing state of shape and fitness he has achieved, Persa is right where we thought he would be in his rehab and continues to get stronger every day. The most important point being made, though, in my estimation, was about Persa's mental state. Both he and Fitz talked about how far ahead Persa is mentally this year than at this same point in 2010. While I have no doubt Persa will be a physical force on Sept. 3 at Boston College, what excites me the most is the year of starting experience he has under his belt. Mental strength is a powerful thing, especially for a quarterback in the hyper-quick environment of a Big Ten pocket.

    • At today's autograph session ahead of the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon, the line at Northwestern's table was the longest I can remember. Interest is high in the Wildcats this season, there is no doubt. Helping that interest today was the fact that Coach Fitz was one of just a handful of coaches who participated, chatting up each and every fan in that line. While everyone is a potential Big Ten champion at Media Days -- I get that -- this is going to be one of the more exciting Northwestern squads we've had lately...and that is saying a lot. If you don't have your season tickets yet, get them now. Go 'Cats!

    Through Northwestern's Athletic Development Department, hosts many auctions over the course of the academic year, putting autographed gear, special memorabilia, fan experiences and many other one-of-a-kind items up for bid to all Wildcat fans to benefit the Wildcat Fund. Last year, Northwestern graduate Kent Markus bid on and won at "Northwestern Football Fan Experience," earning a VIP, behind-the-scenes day at Ryan Field while NU took on then-No. 13 Iowa. Markus wrote a recap of he and his son Robbie's experience, which we share below as a way of encouraging YOU to bid on NU's auction items when they become available this upcoming season!

    I woke up late on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 3. There was an email waiting for me from my wife, who had gotten our son off to school before heading in to work. Because of the election the day before, the work I loved as Ohio Governor Ted Strickland's Chief Legal Counsel was going to end. Ted had tried valiantly to fight the electoral tsunami and come up two points short of doing so.

    I opened the email. "Buy this - you and Robbie will have fun.  Love, Susan." I clicked on the link. There were about three hours left in an online auction at for the "Northwestern Football Experience." I placed my bid, won the auction and Susan sure was right, my son and I had the time of our lives!

    Ten days later, my 13-year-old son, Robbie, and I got up at 5:30 a.m. and headed to the Columbus, Ohio, airport. We flew into O'Hare, and with some time to kill, decided to take the El all the way to Ryan Field.  We passed Wrigley already decked out in purple for the game the following week. And as we got closer and closer to the Howard Street stop, we were surrounded by more and more NU (and Iowa!) fans.  After changing trains at Howard, we found ourselves standing next to a man and his 13-year-old son who were decked out in Iowa gear. We were a little bit stunned to learn that they lived in the same Columbus suburb we do and had flown in for the game on the same flight we had. The boys were eighth graders at neighboring middle schools!

    From the Central El stop, we walked over to Ryan Field to find our hostess for the day, Tammy Walker. I was a little surprised, as we entered the stadium with her, that everyone
    knew Tammy. This woman was seriously connected!

    As the first part of our Football Experience, we were escorted to the sideline to watch the pregame warm-up by the team.  We weren't there for two minutes before Stefan Demos walked over to say hi to Tammy and she introduced us to him.  My son, a loyal 'Cats fan living in hardcore Buckeye country, was in heaven.  A few minutes later, we were introduced to D'Wayne Bates, star receiver for the Northwestern 1995 Rose Bowl team, who went on to play pro ball and is now a high school teacher and coach.  Another autograph on Robbie's NU baseball cap.

    From the sidelines, Tammy escorted us to the press box, where we had front row reserved seats for the game. On the way there, when I inquired how it was that she knew so many people, she kindly explained that her late husband, Randy, had been the NU football coach. I couldn't believe I hadn't figured that one out! I have immense respect for what Randy Walker did with the Northwestern football program and was deeply appreciative of how graciously Tammy had handled my clumsy question.

    And then there was the game. And it was some game. NU beat the Iowa Hawkeyes, ranked 13th in the country! We were fascinated by all that we saw in the press box, learning the different roles performed by those around us from ESPN, the Chicago Tribune and the Big Ten. With substantial self-restraint, we followed the press box rules and didn't cheer, scream or celebrate (well, a little) when Dan Persa threw the game-winning touchdown pass.

    Former Big Ten Commissioner, Wayne Duke, and his wife were sitting to our right.  They couldn't have been more friendly. Another autograph for Robbie, "From one Big Ten fan to another." And during the game, Tammy took us up to the WGN broadcast booth where we met Dave Eanet and Ted Albrecht -- and watched Eanet being honored at the stadium and on the scoreboard for his years of loyal 'Cats play-by-play work.

    After the game, we were escorted to Coach Fitzgerald's post-game press conference. There was an audible gasp in the room when the Coach confirmed the worst for the assembled media -- Dan Persa had ruptured his Achilles' tendon and would be having surgery that evening.

    As we were leaving the press conference, Coach Fitzgerald greeted Tammy, and, yes, it was another autograph for Robbie -- and a picture with the Coach!

    We called for a cab as we headed out to Mustard's Last Stand to wait for our ride back to O'Hare. By 9:00 that evening, we were back at our own home in Ohio. Talk about a "Northwestern Football Experience"! Tammy Walker was phenomenal -- what an ambassador for the school. And Robbie? All he wants to know is if we'll be winning the auction again next year.

    Kent Markus (B.S. '81)

    John Shurna has been here before. Very few basketball players are fortunate enough during their careers to have the opportunity to represent the United States once on the hardwood, but as the NU rising senior heads to Colorado Springs, Colo., this weekend for tryouts for the World University Games it marks the third consecutive season that he'll have the chance to don the Red, White and Blue.

    Shurna is one of 20 individuals who will be competing to earn the 12 roster spots for next month's event in Shenzhen, China. Unlike many of the others making their way to the U.S. Olympic Training Center, this won't be a new experience for Shurna. Two years ago, he was a member of the USA team that captured the gold medal at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship in New Zealand. He then earned a return invite from USA Basketball during the summer of 2010, competing as a member of the USA Select Team of collegiate players who trained against the USA National Team en route to their winning the FIBA World Championship in Turkey.

    To put Shurna's experience playing for USA Basketball into perspective, Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine is the only other player at camp who was a member of the Select Team last summer. Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs and Kentucky guard Darius Miller are the only other two individuals beside Shurna at camp who were members of the Under-19 squad.

    Few could debate the notion that the opportunity to play for USA Basketball has helped Shurna become the player that he is today. Following a solid freshman season during which he averaged 7.3 points per game, he took his game to another level in 2009-10, vaulting his scoring average to 18.2 points per game while earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. He began his junior year playing at an All-America level before being slowed by an ankle injury and was still able to earn third-team All-Big Ten accolades. 

    The fact that Purdue head coach Matt Painter is serving as the head coach of the World University Games team likely can't hurt Shurna's case to make the team. Painter hasn't only had the opportunity to see Shurna compete against his Boilermakers in Big Ten play, he also served as an assistant coach for the USA Under-19 team back in 2009.

    Shurna is being joined by two other Big Ten players at this weekend's tryouts as forwards Draymond Green of Michigan State and Trevor Mbakwe of Minnesota are also making the trip to Colorado. Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor was invited to try out but was forced to withdraw due to injury.

    The squad is set to have one practice Friday evening, two sessions on Saturday and one more on Sunday morning before the finalists are selected. Those who remain will continue to practice through Aug. 7 before departing for China the following day. Competition at the 2011 World University Games is slated to run from Aug. 13-22. Of the four groups in the tournament, the United States is in Group D along with Finland, Hungary, Israel, Mexico and South Korea.

    For more information, please visit the USA Basketball website.

    On Friday, July 22, four Northwestern student-athletes traveled to the Illinois Youth Center -- Chicago, a Level M Juvenile Detention Center located in Chicago's West side. The Center, which handles a population of 104 with an average age of 16, offers transitional programs for delinquent teens, hoping to provide them with the proper education to help them stay out and stay clean once their term has been served. The Northwestern student-athletes, along with a member of the Illinois Bar Association, held a short, two-part program for some of the inmates with the highest academic standing. The first part of the program consisted of a question and answer session, during which members of the IYC talked with the student-athletes about athletics, about college life, about their high school days and their professional dreams, and about what it takes to stay focused, go to college and stay clean. This was followed by some time on the basketball court, where the Northwestern students engaged the IYC members in a few light-hearted small scrimmages. The following is what 2011 NU graduate Michael "Juice" Thompson had to say about the experience...


    Last Friday four Northwestern University student-athletes, in conjunction with Northwestern University staff, traveled to the Westside of Chicago on a dark and gloomy morning to the Illinois Youth Center. 


    We arrived with the mindset of providing guidance, motivation and inspiration to young men within ages 13-18 for their futures.


    Upon our arrival, we were reminded that we must leave our cell phones in the car. I instantly thought "what am I going do for two plus hours without my cell phone, this is going to be terrible." Little did I know that this would turn out to be quite the memorable experience. Once we entered the building we signed in and went through a medal detector and from there we entered into the gymnasium where we all sat and talked to the young men of the Illinois Youth Center. It wasn't too difficult to get acclimated to the situation. It was a question and answer style conversation and moved along pretty smoothly. The boys came prepared and had many questions to ask, thank God Northwestern prepares us students for public speaking and answering questions in an interview because some of these kids were asking questions tougher than the Big Ten Network interviews. It was exciting to answer their questions, ask them questions and get to know them.

    After the question and answer portion, many of us went straight to the cooler for what might have been the coldest, yet most refreshing water I've ever had. After the water break we went onto the basketball court for a 3-point competition which us student-athletes won (obviously... They had Michael "Juice" Thompson on their team). After we scrimmaged, they had five players against our four and the boys of the youth center took it to us and won the game! Not going to lie, these young men had serious game. After the game it was time to go, we all exchanged words which mainly consisted of "good luck" and handshakes.


    Overall, it was a great experience for us all. We got to meet new people and share our personal experiences with others. Inspiring others inspires me!


    The other student-athletes that were present were freshmen, two basketball players Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps and one football player Zack Oliver. As the lone graduate and oldest of the four I was looked at to answer more questions and provide more of my personal experiences as I not only tried to inspire the boys of the youth center, but the student-athletes and myself!


    Michael "Juice" Thompson 

    Dan Persa Pre-Media Day Quick Hitters

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     Quick hitters with quarterback Dan Persa:


    On rehabilitating his torn Achilles:

    It's going well. The injury's 100 percent healed and now I'm just working to get my strength back. But it feels good. It's been a long way and I'm looking forward to camp.


    On the reality that it normally takes 12-to-14 months to recover from the type of injury he suffered:

    That's back to full recovery, but usually you can return before that and that doesn't mean I won't be just as effective. The right (injured) leg won't be as strong as the left one. But it'll be strong enough.


    On suffering setbacks during rehab:

    I wouldn't say they were necessarily setbacks. It's just that there were some good days and some bad days. One morning you'd wake up and be more sore than normal, another morning you'd wake up and could do more than normal.


    On dealing with that reality:

    At first it was tough, wanting to do something that your body won't let you do. You definitely want to be back with your teammates as soon as possible. But I learned along the way that sometimes it's better to undershoot in rehabilitation than overshoot. It took me a couple of times to figure that out.


    On his statement to coach Pat Fitzgerald that he's in a different place right now than he was at this time last year:

    Mentally I'm in a different place, so it's a little of a reversal of last season. Last season I was in the best shape of my life, but mentally I didn't know what to expect. Now I'm not in the best shape of my life, but mentally I know what to expect, I know what I have to do, I know how to respond to things. Especially for the quarterback position, I'd rather have it this way. So much of it is mental.


    On Fitzgerald's belief that this change means great things are possible:

    I think so. I've gone through a lot now and that's helped me take on this year with a different mindset. The experiences I've had are invaluable. From a mental standpoint, I'm head and shoulders above where I was last year.

    Fitz's Take on 2011 Before Big Ten Media Day

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    Before meeting with the national press at the Big Ten's Media Day, 'Cat football coach Pat Fitzgerald sat down to discuss the coming season with Special Contributor Skip Myslenski. The conversation, naturally enough, began with the condition of quarterback Dan Persa, who tore his Achilles last November.


    He's doing great. This is a 12-to-14 month rehab and we're at month eight. So he's right where we thought he would be. He's getting stronger everyday. The rehabbing is progressing the way we thought it would. He's throwing everyday and getting stronger, strengthening that leg, and now it's going to continue to progress. So our plan for camp is to take it day-by-day. We anticipate him being our quarterback for Boston College (in the season opener Sept. 3) and beyond based on where he's at. But is he going to go out and take 70 reps the first day of camp? No, he's not. But that's part of rehab. That's what we expected.


    Q: But you say it's a 12-to-14 month rehab and it'll be, what, only 10 months when you come up against Boston College.


    Yeah. Yeah. But the 12-month, the 14-month thing is in the book for guys like you and me. Now we're talking about sports medicine, so. He's a quick healer. He's been working through it. He's had some bumps in the road during rehab, which are natural, which happen. You've got a shoulder, you've got some scar tissue, there's been some of that. He's kind of gone through that whole gamut and he's feeling great and he's ready to go.


    Q: Has he had setbacks?


    I wouldn't say setbacks. He's had the normal, what you'd expect. All right. It got a little inflamed today because we upped it a little bit more so let's bring it down for a couple of days. That's just the way it goes. I remember back in my rehab (between his junior and senior years as a player), and when I say that, it's changed since these guys are training 365. It's not that we weren't working hard in the summer, but it's 365 now. I remember, I wasn't in shape until about Week Four (of his senior year). He's much further along that I was.


    Q: Have you had to pull him back during his rehab?


    No. No. I think he's listened to his body well. I think he's done a good job of that.


    Q: To be blunt, after what happened last year, is there any concern going into the season with all your eggs in that one basket?


    Well. Well.


    Q: Not to denigrate (backup quarterbacks) Evan Watkins or Kain Colter.


    No. No. It's a good question. You go from an All-Big Ten player to two freshmen (which Watkins and Colter were last season), it's unfair to those two guys. They got put into a very difficult situation and, though it might not have showed up in the win category, I thought they both handled it very, very well. And they were better quarterbacks in the spring and they'll be better quarterbacks in the fall because of that experience that they went through. Now you add (redshirt freshman) Trevor (Siemian), and (incoming freshman) Zack (Oliver), well, we'll see what happens when we get into camp. It's hard to get a bunch of guys ready. But two guys have been out there, they know what it's like. They know what they did well in their preparation, they know what they need to do differently and they've worked hard at it. So I've got all the confidence in the world not only in those two guys. But also what I saw from Trevor in the spring.


    Q: When we talked back in the spring, you said you wouldn't go into detail, but that you were tweaking some things when it came to conditioning. What did you see that prompted that, what were the aims of that?


    Well, I thought we lost our stinger at the end of the year, so there's a little bit of me that, that, well, every coach is paranoid. So as I looked back and reflected. "OK, did I hit 'em too much, did I bang 'em too much in practice, did I take the stinger out of 'em?" As we hashed it through as coaches and talked to the players, I don't think so. I don't think so. But then I also looked forward to the year and adding divisional play, a championship game, it's going to be a longer marathon than it was last year. So we're going to watch the team closely. We're going to come in in great shape, I know that. I'm not worried about that. But I'm taking a more marathon approach than a sprint approach because they're in great shape, they really are. They never get out of shape. They've been to three straight bowl games. There hasn't been a month of going home and eating bon-bons and watching everybody else play.


    Q: So are you talking about going a little easier in camp?


    No. It won't be easy. But I don't know if we'll bang as much. We were very physical in the spring, we were very physical in the spring. So we'll see.


    Q: You also mentioned in the spring that individuals evolve between the end of one season and the start of the next season's camp, and that might lead to them taking on roles different from those they had in the past. Has that happened with any players you can mention?


    I can just tell you what the kids told me last night in our Leadership Council (meeting). I find out in August when they show up (since, under NCAA rules, coaches can't work players out between the end of May and the start of fall practice). But from last year through spring ball through what the kids told me last night, who's poised to take the next step in his career is a kid like (310-pound senior defensive tackle) Niko Mafuli. Not a kid. A young man like Niko. He's been through a lot since he's been here and now this is it. This is it. I think he sees that and he's got the strength and the power to do whatever he wants and now he's put himself at the conditioning level to be an every down starter. So he's one guy who jumps out at me on defense. (Senior corner) Jeravin Matthews is another guy who jumps out at me on defense. (Sophomore defensive end) Tyler Scott jumps out to me as a guy who's really improved. Based on spring and from what I heard from the kids, (redshirt freshman safety) Ibraheim Campbell has really had a good off season along with (senior safety) David Arnold. Those are a group of guys on defense that I've just heard a lot about. There's a lot I'm not mentioning, but those are the ones who jumped out. On offense, I've heard that (tackle) Neil Deiters has had a really good progression this summer, done a lot of great things along with (running back) Mike Trumpy. Then I've heard Kain's had just a great summer.


    Q: Since you mentioned the Leadership Council, you also said in the spring that you were going to change some of its dynamics as well. How have those changes gone? Have you learned anything new from those changes?


    You know, I tweaked it a little bit more. With the experience we have on the Leadership Council with the five seniors, I wanted them to take a little bit deeper ownership and I kind of stepped back a little bit. Instead of forcing everything on them, I stepped back a little bit to see what they were going to do. Based on our conversation last night, I think we're in a really good place. In the art of team, that top 20 percent, when I bark, they bark right back. The middle 60 is what needs to improve. The lower 20 percent, listening to the Leadership Council last night, it's smaller than 20 percent, which is good, but the guys who are in that group, they're (the players on the Leadership Council) tired of them. They believe that we've got enough talent across the board that they've moved on. So. I'll figure out who those guys are when we get into camp and, if they've got further years, I'll worry about them in the off-season.


    Q: When you say that top 20 percent barks back at you, what does that tell you?


    That they believe in what we're trying to accomplish. They buy in. It's their team. They own it. Every year is different. The message and the vision is the same. It evolves. It tweaks. But every team is different. Talking to Dan this morning, "How you doing?" "I'm in such a different place mentally right now than I was this time last year it's unbelievable. It's unbelievable." To me, that tells you how scary good he could be. That's what's exciting.


    Q: Does the rest of the Council express similar sentiments?


    The upperclassmen do, yeah. Drake (Dunsmore, the senior superback), you know Drake. He's got a very stoic, humble swagger about himself. (Senior offensive tackle) Al Netter is in the same boat. (Senior safety) Brian Peters has been on edge since the end of last year. He took last year, like a lot of us, very personally, and he's done something about it. It's one thing to have an attitude about it and another thing to act on it, and he's really worked hard. So, yeah, I feel great about that group and then I see a guy like Jeravin Matthews say, "It's my turn. Let's go."


    Q: Many times I've heard that the less a coach has to direct a team, the better off that team is. You believe that?


    That's a great way to put it. The less I have to lead in what we value, the better off we're going to be because then the players own it. If I've got to be a dictator, eventually I become Charlie Brown's teacher. Wa-wa, wa-wa, wa-wa. You know. Then we get diminishing returns.


    Q: So you've got that in place now, where the players have taken ownership?


    I think so. But time will tell. Listening to them last night, they feel that way. But we'll see. That's what I told them last night. I said, "Hey, it's cool, man, it's like 72 degrees right now. How 'bout when we get our ass kicked again? What're we going to do then? How 'bout when we come out the gate 6-0, what're we going to do then?" So it's great, I'm glad to hear that's the way we feel. Now here we go. Let's get ready to adjust.


    Q:  And just how anxious are you to get going?


    I can't wait. You know. I can't wait. It's the most fun time of the year. Today. Every practice plan is done. It was already done, but we went through it one last time with a fine-tooth comb. You're loving this. It's what you live for and you just can't wait. Christmas morning is when the guys show up and you have that evening meeting on the seventh (of August). It's like, "Yeah, man. It's football again." You work, there are 52 weeks in a year, you work 40 of them for 12 ridiculous weeks, 13 if you get in the championship game, 14 with a bowl game. So you work a lot longer than you play. That's part of it, you look forward to it. I left to come in on Monday, I gave (wife) Stacy a kiss as I was leaving, she was with (their two-year old son) Brendan trying to get him potty-trained, I gave her a kiss and said, "See you later." She said, "See you in February."
    A stellar performance for the second straight summer while playing for Great Britain's Under-20 Team has earned Northwestern junior Alex Marcotullio an invite to the country's National Team training camp.

    Marcotullio averaged 16.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.3 steals per game in leading the Brits to a 7-2 record at the FIBA Under-20 European Championships which concluded last weekend. He ranked third in Division B with an average of 3.2 3-point field goals per game, while his steals average ranked fifth.

    Great Britain's National Team is training in preparation for EuroBasket 2011 which runs Aug. 31 through Sept. 18 in Lithuania. Training camp gets underway July 30 with the squad slated to make cuts Aug. 10 and 22.

    Among those slated to play for Great Britain's National Team is Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls. Ben Gordon, formerly of the Bulls and currently of the Detroit Pistons was also named to the team's preliminary 17-man roster. Great Britain will serve as the host of the Olympic Summer Games in 2012 and has earned an automatic berth in the field.
    The following WildcatsBlog entry is courtesy of the Northwestern Athletic Development office and is aimed at recruiting former student-athletes to become donors to the Wildcat Fund. Even if you are not a former Wildcat on the field, you can still give to the Fund while reaching out to your former student-athlete friends and encouraging them to take part in the challenge!

    The Northwestern Athletic Department kicked off its Student-Athlete Alumni Challenge July 21 with the goal of encouraging 100 N-Club members to make a gift to the Wildcat Fund by Aug. 31.

    This challenge is being supported by Tyke Nollman (football '66), who has pledged $10,000 to the Wildcat Fund if the goal is reached.

    Read below for Tyke's Challenge and join us in supporting Northwestern Athletics and our student-athletes!


    Dear N Club Member,

    As a former football player and 1966 graduate of Northwestern University, I continue to wear my Wildcat pride. The lessons that I learned throughout my four years as a student-athlete are ones that have shaped me throughout my personal and professional life, and, 45 years later, still impact me daily.

    It is important that Northwestern is able to continue to provide its student-athletes with the same experiences that it gave to me and each of us. As competitors and students, each current athlete is a representation of the unique Northwestern experience. In order to carry on the legacy that we helped create, we need you! That is why I am issuing a Student-Athlete Alumni Challenge!

    The Wildcat Fund goal is to try to increase our level of participation by 100 donors by the end of the fiscal year, Aug. 31, 2011. As a group, we can create great opportunities for our athletes. If we can successfully meet this goal, I have pledged to donate $10,000 to the Wildcat Fund!

    I have pledged my pride and loyalty to Northwestern University, and hope that you will do the same.

    Gifts to the Wildcat Fun can be made by:

    Donations of any size will help to continue and better the Northwestern athletic experience. Thank you for your time and support, and as always, GO 'CATS!


    J. Tyke Nollman '66

    Former 'Cat Jason Wright Embarking on New Journey

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    If you follow former Northwestern running back Jason Wright on twitter (@whoisjwright), you've known for a while that big changes are on the horizon for the seven-year NFL veteran. On July 12 Wright tweeted that movers would be at his home soon, thanking God for his seven years in the NFL and the great people that came with it.

    By the time the Arizona Republic officially reported last night that Wright had decided to hang up his cleats, the two-time first-team Academic All-American and his family already had completed a cross-country road trip back to Chicago, where the Republic reports Wright will attend the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.

    In many ways, Wright is the ultimate Northwestern Wildcat student-athlete. During his on-the-field career from 2000-03, he recorded a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons and totaled 35 total touchdowns. At the 2003 Motor City Bowl, in his final game as a 'Cat, Wright rushed for a bowl record 237 yards while also setting records for yards per carry (11.3), all-purpose yards (336) and longest kickoff return (88 yards). His NFL career began as an undrafted free agent in 2004 when he was cut by the 49ers and caught on in Atlanta. He then made stops in Cleveland and, finally, Arizona.

    Randy Walker called Wright the most complete running back he'd ever coached. He didn't have breakaway speed, but used his quick feet, athleticism and field vision to pile up yardage. He was a gifted receiver out of the backfield and a solid, consistent blocker. His all-around ability on the field mirrors his all-around persona off it -- and that is what makes us so proud to call Jason Wright a Wildcat.

    For one thing, Wright can sing. Really, really well. He occasionally performed the National Anthem prior to NU men's basketball games, and even before a session at the 2003 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament in Chicago. He sang at Randy Walker's memorial service, and he was well known for lifting his voice in song at FCA meetings on campus.

    As evidenced by the aforementioned Academic All-America honors, Wright is super intelligent and a gifted communicator. He scored in the 92nd percentile on the MCAT exam in 2003. That same year, he delivered the player's keynote address at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. He recently penned a blog entry on the lockout from the player's perspective for, and shared his thoughts on faith in relation to the Jim Tressel situation at Ohio State at

    The theme throughout everything when talking about Wright is his faith. Follow him on Twitter or read his writings, and that becomes clear. I spoke with former NU running back Noah Herron for a football game program story in 2004, and Herron talked about the important role the FCA played in helping him and Wright through rough times and injuries, renewing their passions for the game of football. Certainly faith propels Wright in all he does.

    When Wright and his wife, Tiffany, and their young daughter set out from Phoenix last week for their drive back to Chicago, he tweeted along the way -- really giving a sense of how they made the trip into a journey. Follow along on Twitter @whoisjwright for the next step in his journey...we will be!
    Five incoming Northwestern freshmen took time out from summer school and workouts Saturday, July 16, to lend a strong hand at a rummage sale at St. Nicholas Church in Evanston.

    Max Champan, Mark Szott, Shane Mertz, Drew Smith and Treyvon Green carried furniture, boxes and bags for neighbors of St. Nick's at its annual rummage sale. The group also helped folks load trucks, vans and cars with items, even helping some of the St. Nick's people with their own items as well.

    "Their help made our jobs so much easier, and our West Town neighbors will now have a load of useful items that will make their lives easier," said Lori Goodman of St. Nicholas Church. "It was a great day and we could not have asked for better volunteers."

    While not officially related, the freshmen footballers' good use of strength last Saturday is an apt preview for the Northwestern Chapter of Uplifting Athletes "Lift For Life" taking place at 6 p.m. CT Friday, July 22, at Ryan Field (in case of rain, it will be held in the Trienens Hall indoor facility just north of Ryan Field). Nearly every Wildcat who is in Evanston for the summer will participate in this wholly student-athlete run event, which was officially announced in this release and benefits the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation dedicated to finding a cure for Neimann-Pick Disease Type C, or NP-C. More background on Uplifting Athletes and the NU chapter is available at

    The Lift for Life is open to the public -- which is highly encouraged to attend. First, fans will watch the student-athletes compete in a bracket-style tournament of eight teams similar to the NU football Winning Edge competition. Events will include an obstacle course and bench press competition among others. After the champion is crowned, kids in attendance will be invited down to the field for tug of war and to race against the Wildcats. Everyone at that time is invited to Walker Terrace for a BBQ and Meet and Greet with the student-athletes.

    Spectators will watch from the home stands and are encouraged to stick around and eat afterwards. Admission and the BBQ are free, but donations to the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation are highly encouraged.

    "We will be accepting donations at the front gate as well as for the food," said NU senior Ricky Weina, who is helping run the Lift for Life. "There will be t-shirts and wristbands for sale, and a "penny war" style collection for the bench press competition. We also accept online donations, just choose a player and donate in their name."

    If you have questions, leave them in the comments and we'll find answers for you from our Uplifting Athletes!

    Walk For Randy a Worthwhile Event

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    On Saturday, July 30, Northwestern is hosting the fourth-annual Walk for Randy to honor our former head football coach, Randy Walker, who died during the summer of 2006. The 5K Family Walk around the streets surrounding Ryan Field was started as way to remember Coach Walk through one of his favorite pastimes: walking for exercise through these very same neighborhoods.

    Sometimes on TV you'll hear disclaimers like "I am a non-attorney spokesman" or see the text "actor portrayal: not a real doctor." Though I'm a paid athletic communicator here at Northwestern, this blog entry has nothing to do with what I'm asked to write; it is a personal endorsement straight from my person.

    The Walk for Randy is a worthwhile event for you and your family!

    Why? Couple of reasons. First, this is a tremendously fitting tribute. Randy would walk to work, walk to lunch, walk for fun and walk for exercise. His wife, Tammy Walker, came to practice most days with their dog, Magic, in tow, and the three would often end the day by walking home together. The Walk for Randy is not simply a clever play on his last name; walking was a legitimate passion of his.

    The second reason is family. Nothing was more important to Coach Walker than his family. Each year, the Walk for Randy kicks off with Tammy and the family addressing the participants before leading the parade around the neighborhood as Grand Marshals.

    The best tribute to Coach Walker that we as fans and alums can make is not just the act of walking, it's in doing so with your family. Bring the kids, bring the strollers, bring the dogs and the neighbors, your pet goldfish in a bag of water, and spend a Saturday morning walking with the family. Shut off the phones, leave the iPods at home and just walk and talk. Enjoy each other!

    At the end of the day, this is a worthwhile weekend event for your family with fellow members of the Northwestern family. For all of the logistics on registering (there is a fee) and the perks you get (such as a ticket to the Nov. 12 game against Rice at Ryan Field), check out the official release.

    Have you participated in the Walk for Randy before? Tell us about it in the comments. We're looking forward to another great event on July 30 and we definitely want to share it with you and your family!!

    Numerous Former 'Cats Doing Well on the Diamond

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    Yesterday we updated fans on the progress of former Northwestern baseball standout Jake Goebbert who is performing well at Double-A for the Corpus Christi Hooks of the Houston Astros' organization. Goebbert isn't the only former NU player making his mark in professional ball, though, as four other Wildcats are also trying to work their way to the Big Leagues.

    We start off with George Kontos (2004-06) who is the most advanced of any former Northwestern player currently in Minor League Baseball. The right-handed pitcher is putting up impressive numbers for the New York Yankees' Triple-A affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. After being a Rule 5 Draft pick of the San Diego Padres in the off-season, Kontos was returned to the Yankees during Spring Training. He has appeared in 27 games this season and sports a 2-1 record with an impressive 2.26 ERA. Kontos is averaging more than a strikeout per inning, fanning 59 batters over 55.2 innings pitched while limiting opposing batters to a .200 average. Hopefully, Joe Girardi will have reason to call up a fellow former 'Cat to the Major League squad in the Bronx sometime in the near future.

    Another pitcher who is off to a good start this season is left-hander Eric Jokisch (2008-10). Playing just down the road from Evanston and just up the road from his hometown of Virginia, Jokisch sports a 7-2 record and a 3.24 ERA for the Chicago Cubs' Class A Midwest League affiliate the Peoria Chiefs. He was paired with another pitcher on the Chiefs' squad during the first half of the season and won each of his first seven decisions, all out of the bullpen. With the exception of one hiccup, Jokisch has performed well in his five appearances since being moved into the starting rotation. In three of the starts, he has not allowed an earned run with each of those appearances covering at least six innings.

    Joining Jokisch in the Cubs' organization is catcher Chad Noble (2007-10) who had been a bit of a nomad this season. The Rockwall, Texas, native has bounced around between the Peoria Chiefs, the Boise Hawks and currently the High A Daytona Cubs. Noble has appeared in 32 games overall between the three teams, with 20 coming for Daytona. Overall, he is batting .229 with 10 RBI while playing the most demanding position in baseball.

    Recent grad Chris Lashmet (2008-11) is the most recent Northwestern addition to the professional ranks. He recently joined the Class A State College Spikes of the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization. Lashmet has the rare opportunity to compete in a home stadium that he has already played at as the Spikes' facility is also home to the Penn State Nittany Lions in the spring. Splitting his time between first base and third base, Lashmet is batting .279 with two doubles, a home run and seven RBI in 18 games played.

    We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the one former Wildcat who is currently playing in the Majors as southpaw J.A. Happ (2002-04) is in his second season with the Houston Astros. Happ hasn't received much help from the struggling Astros squad. He has allowed two or fewer earned runs in a game seven times this season, but has just a 2-2 record in those contests. He has hit a rough patch, dropping his last seven decisions and is 3-11 overall this year with a 5.76 ERA. He tied a season high with eight strikeouts in just 5 2/3 innings pitched in his most recent outing against the Florida Marlins on July 7. Perhaps his highlight of the season came against the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 29 when he socked his first career home run.

    Former Wildcat Goebbert Shining in the Minors

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    Former Northwestern baseball standout Jake Goebbert (Hampshire, Ill./Hampshire) is climbing the charts through the Minor League Baseball ranks with the hopes of one day making it to the Big Show. Matt Rogers of the Corpus Christi Hooks provided with an update on Goebbert's progress.

    Let's make a distinction right off the bat.


    There are ball players and then there are ball players.


    Many ball players play ball from diapers to dentures, from neighborhood streets to slow-pitch softball diamonds with youth league-length base paths and pitching distances.


    A small percentage finds college ball, smaller yet pro ball and the big leagues.


    They are ball players because they play ball. That's it - pure and simple - from the last player jettisoned off his high school freshman team to some of the highest-paid and best-known athletes in the game.


    So, when Corpus Christi Caller-Times Hooks beat writer Greg Rajan muttered under his breath during a game early in the last homestand, "That Goebbert's a ball player," the weight of his statement wrapped itself around our shoulders like a humid August night on the west side of Whataburger Field.


    If Ted Williams' dream was to walk down the street and hear passersby say "there goes the greatest hitter who ever lived," it's no less noble for someone to be recognized as a ball player.


    But how do you define a ball player? What distinguishes him from ball players? Could it be as simple as attitude and hard work? Could it be that players who land on the self-made side of things are harder workers because they have grateful hearts?




    Jacob Goebbert grew up on a farm near Hampshire, Illinois. A Hook since May 6 - promoted from High-A Lancaster - he's not the most heralded prospect in the Houston system. Heck, he's not the most heralded prospect here. He is a good teammate, a considerate man, thoughtful in word and action.


    And an everyday player hitting .312.


    "Growing up I was never the best athlete. I never had the strongest arm and was never the fastest," Goebbert recalled. "But, I learned through life on the farm that you only get one shot. On the farm, you develop an attitude to give it your all. You learn to try to take advantage of every moment. Do your best every day; don't let yourself be taken out of the game.


    "I try to be a good teammate and play hard all the time."


    Hooks manager Tom Lawless calls Goebbert blue-collar, a grinder.


    Translation: ball player.


    Goebbert is unafraid to sacrifice his body at the convergence of wall, ball and warning track. He'll run through a stop sign if the play is in front of him, he has a decent look and the club desperately needs an extra base. He enjoys interacting with fans. He's insightful in postgame interviews, as good as any 23-year-old at breaking down wins and losses for a writer or broadcaster.


    And then it's over, ideally.


    "My wife (Heather) doesn't like the fact that I can so easily turn my emotions on and off. It's a game with a past, present and future. The only way you're going to limit your success in the future is to dwell on the past. That's something I'm still trying to get better at."


    Heather and Jacob met in high school, where he was a three-year varsity letterman in football, basketball and baseball. Coastal Bend football fans will appreciate his experience as a quarterback in the Wing-T, an offensive system born 60 years ago and not foreign to modern-day South Texas programs.


    Goebbert also played safety full-time.


    "My graduating class was 124, so we were pretty busy."


    "In high school, I loved Friday night football," he explained. "One game a week. Just one opportunity. But, baseball's always been my true love. I've always been the best at it."


    His parents were always Jacob's biggest supporters. He points to football coach Don Cavanaugh and baseball coach Steve Ream as strong influences along the way. Both men visit Corpus Christi this week to catch up with Jacob and Heather.

    But home - where the Goebberts operate an agritainment enterprise with a corn stalk maze, petting zoo, pumpkins and hayrides in the fall, vegetables in summer and annual and perennial flowers in the spring - is where the greatest lessons came.


    "There are a lot of things about farming that help in baseball," Goebbert emphasized. "The work is never over. You can stop when the sun goes down and start when it comes back up, but the work's never over.


    "I was in a position to see my dad and mom working side-by-side, every day. A farming family is a team. It takes a lot of teamwork to get the job done. It brings a sense of accomplishment, planting in the spring and the fall harvest.


    "You also learn to fail. There are the storms. What do you learn? Don't worry about the things you can't control and trust in God for His provision."


    That's not just the difference between a ball player and a ball player, but an indication of maturity well beyond the playing field.


    "It's important to realize what you have. I was not blessed with the most ability, but try to make the best of my situation. I have no regrets. I wouldn't change anything. It's important to look back and be grateful."


    Quite a ball player, that Jacob Goebbert.






    For more information on the Goebbert family business, go to


    NU Coaches Share More Than Just a Sideline

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    Congratulations are in order for two Northwestern head coaches, Kelly Amonte Hiller of women's lacrosse and Stephanie Foster of women's soccer. Foster and Amonte Hiller coach their teams from the same sideline at Lakeside Field -- with the former patrolling the field in the fall, the latter in the spring -- and are veritable next-door neighbors in their offices at Patten Gymnasium, but as of Monday there is a new bond that links the two coaches.

    Kelly and Stephanie each gave birth to baby girls on Monday, July 11, the second daughter for each of them.

    The newest addition to the Amonte Hiller family is Lew Hughes Hiller, checking in at six pounds, 11 ounces. Look for her to join big sister Harlee as a mainstay in the stands at Lakeside Field when the six-time national champion women's lacrosse program takes to the turf next spring.

    Stephanie welcomed Etta Mae Foster into the world at exactly eight pounds, adding to a family that includes children Charles and Xiah. Etta Mae was just one day late for being able to enjoy the thrilling win by the United States over Brazil in the Women's World Cup -- an exciting two days for the Foster family, to be sure!

    Congratulations once again to Kelly, Stephanie and their families and we look forward to seeing the whole crew at Lakeside Field when the seasons roll around!

    Welcome to the Blog!

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    Today we are announcing the start of a brand new feature here at our very own blog! As we become more active in the social media landscape on both Twitter (@NU_Sports) and Facebook, we also are launching this blog to provide our friends, fans and alumni with a behind-the-scenes look at Northwestern Athletics.

    By using the category navigation on the right, you can see we began this centralized blog in the spring with the popular Schark Bytes series penned by rising junior softball student-athlete Kristin Scharkey. We've also added some of Special Contributor Skip Myslenski's work from spring ball (click the link for Skip's current complete archive). Both of those blogs will continue in this space, and future student-athlete efforts also will be housed here. We want to hear your voice as well, so be sure to comment on our entries and join the conversation!

    This week on, we are rolling out our 2011 fall schedules. Today, we released the men's soccer schedule. Volleyball will follow Tuesday, women's soccer on Wednesday, cross country on Thursday and field hockey on Friday. Schedules for men's and women's tennis along with men's and women's golf will come out next week. You can find the most up-to-date 2011 football schedule with kick off times for all September and October (a VERY rare treat at this point in the summer!) already posted at

    We look forward to sharing information and insights with you through our new blog!

    Go 'CATS!