Aug 16, 2013
As the countdown to kickoff at Cal continues, NUsports.com's Skip Myslenski chatted with many of the Wildcats' key returners to provide this position-by-position update from training camp:
THREE MINUTES with placekicker Jeff Budzien, who last season converted 19 of his 20 field goal attempts. His lone miss, a 53-yarder against Nebraska that floated wide right, would have given the 'Cats a victory over the Huskers. "No," he says when asked if it was hard to get over that failure. "That's Northwestern. The teammates are incredible. The first guys who came over to me on the sideline, in the locker room, were our captains, our seniors. I was like, 'This is pretty incredible.' At other schools, I don't think it'd be like that. So it's pretty easy to come back when everyone's supporting you. And you have to bounce back. There were some big kicks out there the next couple of weeks. If I'd been thinking about the Nebraska kick, I would have been in trouble."
But does he ever think about that kick?
"Yeah, I do. Sometimes, it's funny. When I go kicking on my own, I'll end at 53, left hash, and every time I think about it. I wish I could have it over, obviously. But that season's over, that kick is over, it's time to move on. I'm ready for the next time. I'm looking forward to it."
How did he get ready for the next time, for the new season?
"I lifted with the guys. A lot of explosive movement. The strength staff's phenomenal with that and it's paying dividends. My distance is longer. I hit from 61 a couple times yesterday and then, today, 57 into the wind. So I'm actually pretty pleased with the way I'm hitting it. But I think the biggest thing is my mis-hit is stronger. That's one thing the strength staff has helped me with. Now my mis-hit has the power to get there from 45, 50, 55."
SOMETIME BEFORE the 'Cats Aug. 31 season opener at Cal, defensive end Tyler Scott will sit down and write out his goals for the season. But that does not mean he does not have any even during these dog days of summer training camp. A noted worker, a compulsive perfectionist, he here aims to make those minute improvements that often separate the good from the great. "It's a day-to-day thing," he explained. "From watching film, I'll see something I have to improve on. If I did something really wrong during practice, I try to fix that each day. Set little goals here and there, whether it be footwork, attacking the spot in pass rush, using my hands better. Those are the small goals that I have right now."
WE ASKED SCOTT, a fifth year, what has changed about the program during his time with it: "I feel we're confident now. We're very confident now. We have the talent now. We know we have the talent. It's really just that camaraderie. Last year we built it, our leadership was outstanding. They brought us together, and we really had this family atmosphere where we were going to hold each other accountable. We were going to call each other out when mistakes were happening. There were no egos, no egos at all. It was for the team. We wanted the best for the team and people were going to work as hard as they could to succeed and help the team any way they could."
OVER HERE the wide receivers were working on their separation techniques, on busting free from a chuck at the line of scrimmage. Over there the defensive linemen were working on tackling, on wrapping up the running back coming up the gut. Over yonder the defensive backs were working on angles, on taking the proper route to reach the ball carrier. Over long minutes on all of their Kenosha practice fields, in fact, the 'Cats were delving into this type of minutiae, were busily working on techniques taught in Football 101. "We're always going to work fundamentally," explained Pat Fitzgerald. "You come out last year in Week 12, we're working the heck out of fundamentals."
ASKED ON MEDIA DAY what approach he is taking with this year's 'Cats, Fitzgerald said: "It's a combo. With some guys, like (running back) Venric (Mark) or (quarterbacks) Kain (Colter) or Trevor (Siemian) or Tyler Scott, those very experienced players that we have, it's making sure they're peaking at the right time, getting ready for the opener and beyond. Then there's that group of redshirt freshmen and true freshmen that are getting their first experience of what it means to be a Wildcat and how to play. We've got to really stress those guys mentally and physically. So it's kind of a balancing act ... I know that Kain can play, and I can keep going on with a lot of guys. That's not the problem right now. The problem is identifying the young guys that we don't have information about. We've got to figure out how those pieces fit together, along with the other questions we've got to get answered."
ONE OF LAST SEASON'S revelations was true freshman superback Dan Vitale, who ended his year with seven catches for 82 yards in the `Cats Gator Bowl win over Mississippi State. Asked to compare his feelings of last summer to this, he said: "Last year was more about learning the offense. Looking at myself on film, I wasn't going through the motions. But I felt like I was going through the motions because I wanted to do everything crisp and the right way. This year, what I talked about with Coach Hef (superbacks coach Bob Heffner), I can more react this year and kind of play the game. Obviously, still run the offense. But also use my abilities the best that I can. To mix it up a little bit this year."
FITZGERALD HAS BEEN constantly questioned about the 'Cat offensive line, which is still in its formative stage. Just as constantly, he has vigorously defended it. "I think they can play. The whole group can play," he said one day. "Yeah, we've got to identify and solidify starters. But this is a very, very athletic group. And they've absolutely adored and loved all the questions they've gotten. . . Now. This has been a recurring theme. We're going to have guys graduate who're pretty good and we've got to reload. If you look at our track record on the field, we've been pretty good. And I think this group is really talented."
DOES THE OFFENSIVE LINE pay attention to the noise surrounding it? "Nah. Nah. No. Nope," said tackle Paul Jorgensen. "We're worried about what we're doing and we're just trying to get better everyday."
"It you get concerned thinking about what other people think, you're never going to achieve the highest level you can," added his position coach, Adam Cushing. "I think they want to step up and win a Big Ten championship, and they'll prove whatever they want to themselves first."
"We're aware of what people are saying, but we're not obsessing about it," concluded center Brandon Vitabile. "We know what people say, but it's not a driving factor. We've got a game August 31st. We're worried about coming together, learning the plays, putting the offense in, getting comfortable with each other and having fun with it. People are always going to say things. But we're just going to focus on ourselves and do the best we can. That's all we can do. We can only control ourselves and our attitudes."
AND FINALLY: The 'Cats' defensive backs think of themselves as The Sky Team, a name draped on them three seasons ago by former corner Demetrius Dugar. "We control the sky. We control the ball, everything that goes in the air," explained current corner Daniel Jones. "We're like traffic control. Whenever the ball goes up, it's our job to make sure we come down with it, or no one comes down with it."
Following a day of Navy SEAL-led team-building workouts on the shores of Lake Michigan Friday, Northwestern is set to engage in an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday morning at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside (closed to the public). The Wildcats will enjoy a day off the practice field Sunday and hold one final training session Monday morning before loading up the buses and heading back to Evanston.
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