CAMP DIVERSION I:
The 'Cats are two-thirds through their Thursday practice up in Kenosha when the whistle signaling a liquid break finally blows. Now they scurry to the appointed place for some sweet relief and soon enough they are lined up in order, seniors up front, juniors behind them and on back to the lonely-and-lost freshmen. Here some helmets are off, and others are propped atop heads, and countess faces feature fatigue and almost all of the jerseys, so pristine just 90 minutes earlier, are soaked through with the honest sweat that accompanies willful labor. Just give me a Gatorade, each 'Cat seems to be silently screaming.
But that is not what they get.
They instead get attacked by the coaches and the trainers and those others on Pat Fitzgerald's staff, get attacked from all sides with water balloons pulled from a pair of garbage cans. It is chaos now, just what is happening here, but just that quickly the players are onto the game and call their own audible and, as this bit of frivolity ends, there is the quarterback Kain Colter chasing down his offensive coordinator Mick McCall and getting him but good.
VIDEO: Water Balloon Fight
CAMP DIVERSION II:
The practice, cut short under Thursday's insistent sun, is over now and here are the freshmen lined up on the 10-yard line. Across from them on the five are the upperclassmen, who will be mere observers here, and now out come the towels and the slices of watermelon, which are placed at the feet of each of the freshmen. Then Fitzgerald is calling for Dennis Springer, the new wide receiver coach, and also for Eric Howitt, the new equipment manager, and soon enough they are lined up with the freshmen and the sides are set for the traditional watermelon-eating contest, no hands allowed.
"If the coaches win, there'll be a punishment to be determined. If you (the freshmen) win, good for you," Fitzgerald is then saying, but he is not the only one who is busy here. For there, just behind Springer, is offensive line coach Adam Cushing, and there, behind his back, is a slice of watermelon he is busy dismembering down to its rind. This slice is nearly eaten, shall we say, when Fitzgerald's whistle blows, and the contestants fall to their knees and their faces start gnawing at the fruit in front of them.
Now Cushing, smiling, sidles to the left side of Springer and drops to his knees, and out comes the uneaten slice and in goes the pre-eaten slice and here comes Fitzgerald's whistle, signaling that the coaches are indeed the victors. But these are Northwestern players we're talking about here, they ain't no dummies, and so some have caught Cushing's antics and now comes the chant, "Cheat, cheat, cheat."
Cushing, quick on his feet, is hustling toward a garbage can to get rid of the evidence that shows just how true that is, but he is not quick enough. For right behind him, in hot pursuit, are defensive back Davion Fleming and wide receiver Rashad Lawrence and each is pointing an accusatory finger at that slice Springer barely touched.
Unsportsmanlike conduct, we yell at Cushing.
He turns, smiles broadly and then he simply shrugs.
VIDEO: Watermelon Eating Contest
The 'Cats had practiced twice in Kenosha on Monday and once on Tuesday and twice more on Wednesday. These were high-octane affairs, affairs that went off far faster than the speed they would face in any game, and ahead of them before their return to Evanston were a Friday practice and a Saturday scrimmage and a trip to the Great Lakes Naval Station for one more practice on Monday. So, yes, Thursday was just the time for some diversions.
"Just to have a little bit of fun, to break up the monotony," is what Fitzgerald said when asked about that. "From the standpoint of having fun, it's a grind especially right now. It's kind of the hump day of camp. It was about a two-hour staff meeting to organize it. A lot of working parts, there. A lot of working parts."
Did that staff meeting include him helping fill the balloons?
"No, no," he said with a laugh. "Our operations staff did. They did a great job. We were fully armed. We even had Super Soakers."
OBSERVATION I: We have written in this space about the competition at linebacker, where at least eight players are in the hunt for playing time. We have written too of the reconstituted-but-still-deeply-experienced offensive line, where a pair of players with starting experience (Doug Bartels and Neial Deiters) are no longer atop the depth chart. There is more depth at wide receiver than found in a class studying the existentialist Soren Kierkegaard, and--behind the starters--some promising talent is also extant at running back, on the defensive line and in the defensive backfield. This is why we say to Fitzgerald that we think this is the deepest team we have seen in all our years around the 'Cats.
"Yeah. Yeah. It's probably the deepest one that we've had," he says without hesitation. "We've got to get some of those younger guys to come along. They're gaining on it, they're really working hard. But, without question, the is the deepest team we've had."
There are the quarterbacks Dan Persa and Kain Colter, and there are the running backs Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith. There are the wide receives Jeremy Ebert and Venric Mark, Rashad Lawrence and Tony Jones. There is the under-appreciated super back Drake Dunsmore and, returning kicks, Mark and (we're speculating here) the redshirt freshman Ibraheim Campbell. To these pair of eyes each of those 'Cats (and there are probably others) can break the proverbial big one, which is why we tell Fitzgerald we think this is the fastest 'Cat team we have ever seen. Says he: "I would agree."
AND FINALLY, Fitzgerald, on Persa's progress:
"He's right on. He's doing great, he's doing really well. I'm happy with where he's at a couple weeks before we play."