While in town this morning to announce a $1 million Gigabit Grant to the City of Evanston, Illinois governor Pat Quinn also gave Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald a special proclamation declaring Friday, Jan. 18, "Northwestern Wildcat Football Day" in the state of Illinois.
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Our football team just wrapped up its first Bowl Week practice session down in Jacksonville and we have officially been on the ground in Gator Bowl country for more than 24 hours. So far the committee and our hosts have been tremendously welcoming and we've picked up a few bits of knowledge that we'd like to pass along to you in this blog!
If you don't follow us on Twitter (@NU_Sports), do so! Tonight, we will be turning over the handle to one of our student-athletes as the team visits Latitude 30, which features activities like bowling, billiards and arcade games. Should be a fun night for the team!
Northwestern Football's official travel party left Evanston early Wednesday morning, Dec. 26, to travel to Jacksonville, Fla., for the official start of Gator Bowl Week. In each of the days leading up to the New Year's Day Gator Bowl, we'll have blogs in this space updating you on all of the activities our team and staff are enjoying.
In addition, check out our new Gator Bowl Facebook Tab, now available on our page at Facebook.com/NorthwesternAthletics. In this tab, we will have an updated video from each day down in Jacksonville as well as a regularly updated "Photo of the Day" and the ability to read our most recent Gator Bowl blog entry. Keep up with the #B1GCats conversation on Twitter from Facebook, as well, with an embedded #B1GCats twitter feed.
Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) held its 15th annual Field
Day Friday on the Wildcats' FieldTurf practice field, welcoming more than 150 area
kids to meet and interact with some of their favorite NU student-athletes.
Children from Family Focus, the McGaw YMCA and the Youth Organization Umbrella (Y.O.U.) visited campus for the afternoon. The 70-member YMCA group remained after Field Day to attend Northwestern's women's volleyball match against No. 1 Penn State at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
All 19 Northwestern varsity programs hosted various stations consisting of activities relevant to their respective sports. Student-athletes either instructed the young fans on some of the intricacies of their skills or created fun games for the participants to play.
Each child had the chance to spend time with multiple Wildcat athletic teams, getting the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of sports such as fencing, lacrosse, golf and soccer. The swimmers held a relay race at one station while hosting a land-based version of their training game "Sharks and Minnows" at another. The fencers showed the basics of their sport via very safe plastic weapons. Several kids really got into the football station, launching their 4-foot-tall frames into several non-travel squad members who served as tackling dummies.
Other activities included taking golf, tennis and baseball swings with tennis balls, basketball on lowered hoops and soccer drills and relays. The young girl in the picture below tried her hand at the softball "speed pitch" station, eventually launching the ball 11 miles per hour!
Last night, the Illinois PGA announced that our Director of Golf and head men's golf coach Pat Goss has been named the organization's Teacher of the Year for 2012. This is a prestigious and well-deserved honor for a man who previously was named one of Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers in America in 2007.
While this award was decided well ahead of the start of the 2012-13 Northwestern men's and women's golf seasons (and the Ryder Cup held locally at Medinah last week), all three of those events provided clear-cut evidence of Goss' teaching prowess.
Website debuts are coming fast and furious this week from Northwestern! On the heels of the groundbreaking Social Media Hub for our football program, TheWildcatWay.com, today we are launching a refreshed and redesigned NUsports.com in conjunction with our web hosts, CBS Interactive.
We recently extended our relationship with the CBS College Sports Network, which provides a website redesign as part of that agreement. Northwestern has had a longstanding relationship with CBS dating to the 1990s; this will be our fifth redesign in the last 10 years. For fun, scroll down to the bottom of this post to see the way NUsports.com has looked over the years courtesy of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. My, how we've grown up!
We are excited to unveil our 2012 Twitter hashtag for Northwestern Football and all of our 19 varsity sports programs over the coming academic school year: #B1GCats.
Why #B1GCats? We love the way it channels both our Chicago's Big Ten Team brand and our membership in the "B1G" Conference. While the Wildcat is one of the most popular nicknames in collegiate athletics, we truly are the only #B1GCats. It's also shorter than #Northwestern--we love what our school name stands for, but it was not made for a 140-character world.
#B1GCats will be our official hashtag across all sports in 2012-13, and we still will use #Northwestern as well. The #Northwestern #B1GCats open the season at Syracuse at 11 a.m. CT Saturday. Make sure you use the hashtag for the best chance of inclusion in our @Storify social media recap after the game!
Help us welcome the #B1GCats hashtag into our Twitter family by using it today in a clever and creative tweet. We'll pick one of our favorites and award an @UnderArmour purple heatgear t-shirt to its author!
In the early hours of August 6, 2012, a car-sized rover called Curiosity landed on Mars in the culmination of a 254-day, 350-million mile journey. The much-celebrated and nerve wracking landing captured the nation's fascination before Curiosity began its scheduled two year mission of studying the climate and geology of Mars. One former Northwestern student-athlete stayed up late to watch the landing live for a very good reason: he played a role in designing part of the Curiosity Rover.
Pat Fitzgerald took the stage right at noon today to address the print media, covering several topics. He talked at length about the team's cumulative GPA of 3.04 from last year and about Northwestern having the best APR score in Division I FBS football. Combined with four-consecutive bowl berths, NU's combination of academics and athletics currently are unmatched at any level in the nation.
We're down here at the 2012 Big Ten Football Media Day, kicking off the season with Coach Fitz and our three player representatives: junior quarterback Kain Colter, senior offensive lineman Brian Mulroe and senior linebacker David Nwabuisi.
Our rotation begins at 11:20 when the three players meet with BTN, CBS and ESPN. Coach Fitz makes his first appearance at noon CT to address the assembled print media from the main podium; that 15-minute session will be aired live on BTN and possibly ESPNU. Following those sessions, the NU contingent will begin the local TV rotation at 12:30 p.m. CT. In that room, players and coaches sit for 15 minutes at each of five different podiums where media are assembled, rotating around the room to greet all five groups.
A couple of notes before we begin:
* Earlier this morning, we released our new 2012 Under Armour football jerseys. We will have artwork on hand for the media and are scheduled to have a physical jersey to display, as well.
* More media registered for this year's Big Ten Media Day than ever before, surpassing last season's record-breaking total.
* Northwestern student-radio WNUR 89.3 FM is here and will be broadcasting live from 2-4 p.m. CT. Several NU players are scheduled to join them in the 2 p.m. hour.
* For the first time this year, players and coaches will meet in a dedicated room
with ESPN.com to film video interviews and pieces for the web. Sirius/XM also
is part of the main rotation in the local TV room. Coach Fitz is scheduled tape an interview on Sirius/XM College Sports Nation (channel 91) at 1:45 p.m. CT.
* The three players arrived from campus around 10 a.m., using a staff hotel room
to meticulously get dressed. As Nwabuisi ironed his purple shirt, the trio
proclaimed they easily would be "the best dressed players here." Lots of pride in representing Northwestern!
For more updates as the day rolls along, stick to @NU_Sports on Twitter and this blog.
UPDATE! Today is Sept. 19, and it is Kevin's birthday! Over the three months since we posted this blog entry, cards, letters and boxes have been rolling in nearly every day. Thanks to hundreds of our fellow universities, professional sports organizations both major and minor and contributions from individual fans and collectors, we were able to give Kevin literally thousands of cards, promotional items and memorabilia today. Check out this video below to see how it went!
We in Northwestern Athletics have a friend we want to introduce to you. His name is Kevin Schneider, and you can't miss him at our games.
Kevin is a 35-year-old graduate of Evanston Township High School and has worked at the Dominick's grocery store on Green Bay Road just north of our athletic offices for 17 years. He's a sports fanatic, is active in the Evanston and Chicago communities and has one of the biggest hearts we've ever experienced. He also has a developmental disability, which makes him all the more -- as he would say -- "amazing."
Kevin has a couple of passions in life that he shares with us, in particular his love of all 19 of our NU varsity sports teams and his schedule card collection from teams across the country. We thank our season ticket holders and boosters in a myriad of ways, and we want to extend the same thank you to Kevin in a way that's unique and special by launching "Schedule Cards for Kevin." We are asking our alumni, fans, family and fellow athletic programs to drop a schedule card in the mail to us so that we can make Kevin's collection as big as the heart he shares daily with our coaches, student-athletes and staff. Continue reading for the details and to get to know Kevin a little bit better!
Northwestern's Department of Athletics staff took a day out of the office Friday, June 8, to volunteer at five different locations around the Evanston and Skokie communities. While the Wildcat student-athletes spend many hours of their free time volunteering across the Chicagoland area, rare is the opportunity for our staff to shut down and make similar contributions. More than 100 NU staff gave their time Friday morning -- find out more about each place we went after the jump!
On Tuesday, March 20, after Northwestern softball run-ruled Massachusetts and Hartford during its Spring Break 2012 trip to Tampa and Clearwater, Fla., the Wildcats headed to George M. Steinbrenner Stadium to catch a New York Yankees spring training game and meet Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
Northwestern students took to the dance floor over the weekend for Dance Marathon 2012 benefiting The Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation, and NU Athletics was proud to play a bigger role than ever in helping the dancers raise more than $1 million for the second-consecutive year.
In a study that looked at overall Academic Progress Rate (APR) and Graduation Success Rate (GSR) scores with regards to race, Lapchick said "Northwestern and Notre Dame would have played for the National Championship if there was a national championship game for Graduation Success Rate among bowl teams. Both teams graduated at least 94 percent of football student-athletes and at least 92 percent of African-American football student-athletes."
In the most recent data available from the NCAA, Northwestern owns a 94 percent GSR for its overall football student-athlete population. That number is inclusive of a 92 percent GSR for African-American football student-athletes and a 96 percent GSR for white football student-athletes.
Going further, Lapchick observed that "Northwestern and Rutgers would contend for the National Championship if there was a national championship for APR scores, with APR scores of 993 and 988, respectively."
The Lapchick study previously pitted Northwestern and Notre Dame in its GSR title game in 2010 while NU and Navy earned the Lapchick Bowl berths in 2009.
In a contest that officially ended yesterday, NU's athletes and staff members collected and delivered more than 6,100 units of canned and non-perishable food items for donation to Family Focus. The total shattered the old record of 5,700 established during last year's SAAC food drive. This year's SAAC effort was spearheaded by board members Belinda Niu (women's tennis) and Levi Mele (wrestling) along with the rest of the board.
"The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee's annual food drive provides an opportunity for the entire Northwestern athletic department and the Evanston community to band together for a great cause," said SAAC co-president Jonathan Harris of men's soccer. "We at Northwestern realize how truly fortunate we are, and collecting food for those in need enables us to give back to our Evanston community.
NU's 19 varsity programs competed among themselves to see who could bring in the most donations while the Northwestern Department of Athletics staff also held a separate contest. The overall winner was the NU baseball team, which collected a whopping 2,470 units. The team delivered the haul in dramatic fashion, pulling up to the front doors of Anderson Hall 30 minutes before the 5 p.m. deadline with two pickup trucks and two SUVs packed to the gills with foodstuffs.
"It was exciting to see the thought process they put into the food drive this year," head baseball coach Paul Stevens said. "Our guys are so energized about making sure those who are less fortunate than them are taken care of all year long. Putting food on someone's table who otherwise might not be able to have it is pretty awesome."
In addition to staff and student-athletes, Northwestern fans had the opportunity to give at recent men's and women's basketball games. Some elected to bring in physical canned goods while others donated money to the cause. That money was used during a shopping trip to Sam's Club today that netted more than 100 additional food items.
"This year's drive was an absolute success," Harris said. "The competition between the teams and within the athletic department really brought out the competitiveness in everyone, which enhanced the giving spirit!"
Click to View a Video of the Celebration
Just like he has been doing since the day he arrived at Northwestern, senior offensive tackle Al Netter volunteered for some community service work Wednesday afternoon. Netter traveled to Lincolnwood Elementary School in Evanston for what he thought would be a reading and Q&A session with a fourth grade class, but instead the afternoon turned into a party in his honor.
In September, Netter was chosen as one of 11 Football Bowl Subdivision members of the Allstate American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Good Works Team® in recognition of his dedication to community service and off-the-field accomplishments. This marks the sixth consecutive year a Wildcat has been among the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision players chosen, the longest streak for any school in the program's 20-year history.
A Northwestern captain and member of NU's Leadership Council for the last two years, Netter has started 42 consecutive games at left tackle for the Wildcats and is a two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten performer.
Off the field, the Rohnert Park, Calif., native has gone to great lengths to help those less fortunate at home and abroad. In 2010, Netter traveled to Guatemala an alternative spring break trip during which he helped cultivate farmland for local residents as well as teach English and prepare meals at an orphanage. More recently, Netter was a founding member of the Northwestern chapter of Uplifting Athletes which raises money for individuals with Niemann-Pick Type C, a rare genetic cholesterol storage disorder that deteriorates the nervous system.
On Wednesday, the Lincolnwood students created a life-size Al Netter drawing in anticipation of his visit. In addition, they made a banner congratulating him on his award -- a banner which remained hidden until the appropriate moment. After Netter read the book, he took questions from the students for a few minutes before Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald opened the door and walked into the room, much to the surprise of Netter and to the delight of the students.
Television cameras and representatives from Allstate and the AFCA Good Works Team® also entered the room, and the award presentation and party was on. Students posed with Netter and Coach Fitz, displaying their banner and some football schedule posters brought along by NU Athletic Department staffers.
Wednesday's ceremony is not the end of the celebration. As part of the honor, Netter is invited to attend the Allstate Sugar Bowl for a ceremony and associated service projects in the New Orleans area.
The organizers of the race instituted a "Swim Angel" program beginning this year, and Northwestern quickly agreed to participate to take advantage of being visible at a National event in a sport getting a big push ahead of an Olympic year. Swim Angels buddy up with swimmers who need encouragement to help them complete the race.
"The Big Shoulders race was a fantastic opportunity for our team to be a part of a larger swimming community and experience a different side of the sport we love," Northwestern team captain Meghan Cavanaugh said. "It was great for team bonding and wonderful exposure for the Northwestern Women's Swimming team!"
In addition to the current Wildcats, Ellis herself and alums such as NU 100 fly record-holder Katie Braun served as Angels. Only a few participants elected to swim with an Angel, leading many of the Wildcats to enter the water en masse behind the pack and team up with any swimmers who needed help along the way.
One particular participant requested a buddy and senior Jenny Wilson swam alongside her. The racer had never competed in an open water 5K swim before and had set a goal time for herself of 3.5 hours -- a long time to be in waters with temperatures of 64-65 degrees. Several Wildcats teamed up during the back half of the race to help her finish, which she did in 2.75 hours -- way under her goal time. The majority of the Northwestern team was on the beach waiting for her at the finish, cheering and high-fiving her as she left the water in a very emotional and triumphant scene.
After the race, Northwestern's Angels turned into a clean-up crew, helping to break down the set-up and clear the beach of refuse.
Also of note: Northwestern graduate, world open water champion and 10-time U.S. open water champion Erica Rose finished second overall in the race for the women -- while wearing a cast. Rose previously won the race three-straight years from 2007-09 before taking second a year ago. Earlier this year, she won the 28.5 mile Manhattan Island Swim, which is a circumnavigation of Manhattan Island in New York.
Jaeschke has signed a four-month contract with professional club Chevakata in the northwest Russian city of Vologda. She leaves this week for a training camp in Lithuania before the Russian Women's PBL schedule kicks off in October. The season runs into next spring, but Jaeschke's initial contract expires around Christmas.
"It is pretty common to sign a four-month contract when you are an unproven rookie in their league," Jaeschke said. "After it's over, they can choose to re-sign you for the rest of the season or you have the option to negotiate for more money or sign with a different team if you want."
Jaeschke found out she made the squad halfway through a three-week training camp in Lithuania that ended last week. She flew home to Chicago on Monday, Aug. 29, but will be wheels up again on Sept. 3 for the final preseason training camp next week. She already has met "85 percent" of her teammates -- all Russian -- and said the squad hopes to sign another American or European player in the coming weeks.
"(The language barrier) is very difficult," Jaeschke said. "Only two of my teammates speak English and the coaches do not at all. Luckily they are really patient and will translate things for me."
Despite the distance from home and the fact Vologda located in the northern part of a region known for its long winters ("I'm from Chicago, I'll be fine," she said), Jaeschke is excited to continue her career in one of the best professional women's leagues in the world.
"I was kind of hesitant at first with it being Russia," she said. "But this is a great move for my career with a great team in a great league.
"I can't believe I'm getting paid to play basketball. I've been doing this the last 20 years of my life and now I'm getting paid to do it? I went over to training camp and was thinking 'this is just like what preseason was like at Northwestern,' except I was getting paid. I know I got a free education (at NU), but getting an actual paycheck for playing basketball is so crazy!"
The first of two Wednesday practice sessions began promptly at 8:50 a.m. on the fields of UW-Parkside under sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s. A forecasted rain event was gobbled up by the lake, keeping the Kenosha weather perfect-as-usual for the 15 period workout. Today's observations and musings:
Three Wildcats (Vince Browne, Jordan Mabin and Al Netter) took "veteran days" for Wednesday morning, electing to take the session off and help coach up their position groups. For every 12 starts a player makes in his career, he earns one "veteran day" off practice. So for example, three-year offensive line starter Ben Burkett (39 starts) has three such off-days accumulated for this preseason. The trio will suit up for tonight's second practice.
Coach Fitz: "We were real physical this morning. We put the ball on the ground and got about 40 plays in. We'll focus on the kicking game more tonight." On the veterans' days: "The guy's legs are cooked and we're just grinding through camp right now. You're always going to give your veterans some time off, but the veteran's day puts the responsibility on them to communicate to their position coach when their legs need a break."
Brian Mulroe's Purple Nurples team won this year's offseason competition known as the Wildcat Games. Their prize is significantly different than in the past when winners were excused from the conditioning test (and usually forced to sit it out after Eric Peterman's team insisted on running it anyway after the inaugural Games). The Nurples received VIP cards that get them to the front of line in the dining hall and for treatment while also getting them cart rides from the middle of the Kenosha practice fields back up to the locker room after practice. Now THAT is a valuable prize. The Nurples were exceptionally generous with their time with the Special Olympics this year, accumulating most of their winning margin through that particular community service activity.
VIDEO: Redshirt Freshman Center Brandon Vitabile talks about his Camp Kenosha experience and some of his favorite pastimes
In player and plays of note from Wednesday morning...
* Dan Persa threw his vintage darts all day long, complete with the nose-down spiral that found its way to the numbers seemingly every time.
* During interior running drills, an unseen-from-my-angle D-lineman bruised his way into the pile so ferociously that he threw an offensive lineman backward into Mike Trumpy for the tackle. Moments later, Kevin Watt bulled his way around the end for a TFL.
* Evan Watkins was deadly on downfield throws during 7-on-7 drills. "He's having a bombs away practice" one special teams member commented from the sidelines.
* Also during 7-on-7 play, Trevor Siemian floated a pass down the sideline that Pierre Youngblood-Ary fought threw two defenders to run under and grab for a sweet connection.
* In TEAM full-go action, the physicality picked up even more. Mike Jensen made an ear-ringing block on the outside that sprung a teammate on a flat route, then more great blocking allowed Evan Watkins to find a seam and run un-touched 60 yards up the sideline (screaming a Ric Flair-esque "WOOOO" as he rumbled by my position beyond the chains).
* The defensive line blew up a screen play at one point while Kain Colter was taking reps, prompting the entire defensive sideline to chant "Kain's not Abel!"
* On an option play, linebacker Collin Ellis disrupted the pitch enough that Tyler Scott was able to leap in the backfield and intercept the ball. "Tyler is a freak. If something freakish is happening, it was probably him," said the specialists.
After some pool time this afternoon and likely a quick nap, the team will head to a local high school this evening for a turf-field practice that is completely closed to the public and the media. On Thursday, ESPN's DirecTV satellite bus will be at Northwestern's practice at UW-Parkside. NU is one of 19 schools the bus is visiting this preseason; the Wildcats will be featured on ESPNEWS and other ESPN platforms throughout the afternoon on Thursday.
After being out of town for the first two sessions of Camp Kenosha Monday, I made my way up to UW-Parkside for the first time in 2011 for Tuesday morning's single session. The walk down the gravel path leading from the main Parkside athletic building to Northwestern's very own side-by-side practice fields always strikes me as the official beginning of football season. Here are some observations from today's session:
It was another perfect weather day in Kenosha, something the Wildcats have grown accustomed to in recent years. Temperatures were in the low 80s with virtually no clouds to be seen and a nice breeze rolling down the spectating hill and across the grass.
VIDEO: Northwestern freshmen talk about their Camp Kenosha experience
You want to know what makes Northwestern's practice the most high-energy workout in the nation? Picture 54-year-old offensive coordinator Mick McCall leading his QB group from one drill to the next in a dead sprint before intentionally leaping into a barrel-roll somersault to punctuate the new location, then jumping to his feet yelling "Too Much Kenosha!" That'll fire anyone up for what would be a pretty mundane passing drill at other schools.
In actual play and player observations, a few plays stuck out. During 7-on-7 passing, Dan Persa hit Jeremy Ebert down the seam on a play that should be very familiar to Northwestern fans by now. Evan Watkins twice found Brendan Barber during the drill, once on a great touch floater over the leap of Demetrius Dugar and again in the back of the end zone. On the very first play of TEAM with full-go tackling, Jordan Mabin read a play perfectly and stopped a run deep in the backfield before several plays later stepping in front of a Kain Colter pass for a pick (Colter would run Mabin out of bounds himself).
After practice, Coach Fitz had new starting center Brandon Vitabile break down the team huddle. He correctly pronounced his name vuh-TOB-uh-lay for those of you pronouncing at home.
More than one support staffer commented on the "intriguing" freshman class this year, here experiencing their first Camp Kenosha. Whether or not they know where they are, some great competition is going on among the team. Stay tuned to NUsports.com for video interviews from our two-man crew here all week gathering interviews for the website and material for season two of The Pat Fitzgerald Show.
Also, view some images from today's practice courtesy of NUsports.com. Tomorrow's action gets underway with a morning practice here at UW-Parkside before a closed-to-the-media (and everyone else) night practice.
• 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!
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 ESPN.com, and shared his thoughts on faith in relation to the Jim Tressel situation at Ohio State at TheGospelCoalition.org.
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!
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 NUsports.com 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!!
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 NUsports.com 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 NUsports.com, 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 NUsports.com.
We look forward to sharing information and insights with you through our new blog!