Aug. 8, 2011
See Coach Fitz's and Dan Persa's Post-Practice Interviews below:
With one day of practice in the books for the 2011 season, Northwestern special contributor Skip Myslenski provides perspective from two returning Wildcats about what it's like to reconvene the NU football family.
They checked in at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon, and then they weighed in and went to the locker room to collect their new equipment. "Everyone's very excited," the senior safety Brian Peters will say, thinking back on those moments. Now there was a compliance meeting ("Not very exciting," Peters deadpans), and finally the full `Cat football team met together for the first time since the end of spring practice. "It was a good time. Everyone was ready to rock," Peters will remember.
That was certainly true of sophomore tailback Mike Trumpy, who bolted awake at 2:30 Monday morning and began thinking of the practice that would begin 14 hours later. "I kept thinking about how soon it was going to be," he will recall, and here 90 minutes would pass before he could again fall back asleep.
"I was very excited," he will go on. "We've all been doing this for awhile. This is my third year. But you still get nervous, you still get anxious. First days are always the most-nerve wracking, whether it's the first workout, the first lift, the first run. But, yeah, I know everyone was very excited. We know how much work's ahead. But it's a lot different coming back. Camp's starting. It's a different attitude. It's nice seeing everyone together. It's always a lot of fun."
Sings Sister Sledge:
"Ev'ryone can see we're together
As we walk on by
(FLY!) and we fly just like birds of a feather
I won't tell no lie."
'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald, as so many of his peers, often compares his team to a family while discussing the players he leads. It is a familiar simile, so familiar that many now consider it a cliché, yet there is this truth to remember when considering those utterances that make so many roll their eyes. They came to be clichés only because they were the truth.
So it is with his 'Cats, who were so excited to regroup on Sunday afternoon and to begin readying themselves for the Monday evening practice that would be the first of their new season. They had seen each other during the summer. Many had stayed in Evanston and they had drilled often together, seven-on-seven. They had pushed each other during the summer. All had competed in the weight and running workouts drawn up for them. But here there was fragmentation and now there was none. They, again, were together, and together they were a family.
Just what that means, just what that entails, just what feelings that engenders -- these are not easy concepts for an outsider to understand and explaining them can be as difficult as grasping a waft of cigarette smoke. But, says Trumpy, "That's pretty much the main reason I came here. (The coaches) all recruit the same person. We're all hard working. We care about education. They recruit the same type of guy. Everyone gets along. Just the vibes you get from visiting and talking to the guys, it's so family oriented. I know for a fact the majority of the guys, that's the sole reason people come here. The family atmosphere."
So, we say to him, he can understand the feeling of the legendary Bo Jackson, who once said, "If I miss anything about sport, it's the camaraderies of old teammates."
"These guys," says Trumpy, "you spend so much time with them on a daily basis. Pretty much, these guys are going to be your best friends for the rest of your life. There's so many inside jokes. Everyone knows the same punch lines. Everyone gets along. It's a whole different friendship from your friends in high school. They're friends you played sports with. But friendship in college football is so much stronger. Everyone's out there giving his blood, sweat and tears, and your brother's right next to you."
Sings Sister Sledge:
"(ALL!) all of the people around us they say
Can they be that close
Just let me state for the record
We're giving love in a family dose"
So how long has Brian Peters been waiting for his family's reunion and the first practice of this new season?
"Since spring ball ended," he says, and here he is smiling like a kid opening presents on Christmas morning. "Everything through the offseason, you're just building up, trying to get better in places you need to get better, and now everything peaks come camp. Now that hard work we put in in the off-season pays off. Now we start making big strides we carry into the season."
Are his nerves as a-tingle as Trumpy's?
"I wouldn't say nerves. I'd more say excitement. It's my last season, so I've got that weighing on my shoulders. But it feels good being back in season, just to be back with the guys and competing again. Competition, hitting again, being violent again is what it's all about. That's why I love football. That's why I love being back here with my teammates."
So, finally, can he explain that feeling that is so difficult to grasp?
"It's hard to put into words. It's hard to say about your own family let alone our family here in the football program," he will say, but then he tries.
"Well, I just switched houses. I used to live with eight teammates. Now I live with another nine teammates. We're together on the field and off. It's just, it's like everyone's brothers. Everyone kind of gives each other crap, but everyone backs each other up. Everyone looks out for each other. Everyone hopes the best for everyone else too because, even though we're competing, we all have the same goal. It's easy to bond over that. That's what a family is. Your family makes you better, makes you who you are, and that's why we're going to be so good this year.
"In the locker room (on Sunday), everyone trying on stuff and joking around, it was just a great feeling. It's hard to describe. But you're dapping everyone up (shaking hands, one way or another), everyone's excited to be back, everyone's excited talking about first practice. It's just a good feeling.
"Expectations are high. Our own expectations are high for ourselves. We didn't like how we finished up last season, so we have a chip on our shoulder. We're ready to rock."
Northwestern conducted its pre-practice warm-up session on its outdoor FieldTurf surface -- approximately half an hour's worth of action -- before being forced inside to Trienens Hall by a steady Evanston rainfall.
The Wildcats wore helmets but no pads for the practice. They'll do so again Tuesday before progressing to "shells" and eventually full pads by Friday afternoon.
After arriving in Evanston over the weekend and digesting a wealth of orientation information over the last two days, freshman running back Jordan Perkins and many other newcomers finally were able to get their first taste of on-field football action. Said Perkins when asked by the media if it was just like all his previous first days of camp: "No, it's definitely not like high school."
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