Sept. 20, 2010
By Skip Myslenski
NU sports.com Special Contributor
Yes, linebacker Quentin Davie was happy to be named the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Week for his work against Rice. "When I heard it, it felt great," he would say.
But that hardly rated as a news flash. What was far more revelatory was what he then added. "But obviously I want to keep getting better and be consistent throughout the season," he said here. "It'd be great if I got Defensive Player of the Year. That would be a better honor."
Davie ended his night against the Owls with 1.5 tackles-for-loss, 10 tackles overall, one pass breakup and an interception he returned 11 yards for a touchdown. This, clearly, was a nice evening of work, but on Monday 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald still couldn't keep himself from tweaking his senior. "Q's been Johnny-On-The-Spot with these interceptions," he said. "He was one for two. He had one drop and one completed interception."
Minutes later he explained, "I make fun of him when he drops one because I only had two and I dropped about 12 in my career. I can't forget those drops."
"He never stops," Davie would later say of the gentle jibing. "If I drop an interception, he'll always bring it up. I'll just catch them all from now on and he won't be able to kid me."
Davie's pick against the Owls gave him three on the season, which is fully half of the total managed by the 'Cat defense. "Number one, he's really disciplined in his drops. He's right where he's supposed to be," Fitzgerald said when asked to explain his production.
But, since nothing during a game happens in a vacuum, it was relevant that he then added: "And we've gotten good pressure. On his three picks this year, we've hit the quarterback or been in the quarterback's face or made him move in the pocket and he's had to make a decision. On Saturday we flushed and somebody came from the secondary to contain and nice job by Q securing the ball."
Davie was, among his various guises, a quarterback in high school, which led us to wonder what Fitzgerald saw that led him to transform his recruit into a linebacker. "First of all, it was his length. He was six-two-plus, six-three, and he played multiple positions," he replied. "He was more of a Jack-of-All, Master-of-None. He played a little bit of everything. He did it all well, so it was, 'All right, what position does he project to be?' Because of his range and his size, it was either going to be linebacker or superback. We talked to him, 'What position would you rather play?' He said, 'I'd rather play linebacker.' The rest is history."
"I knew I wanted to play linebacker," said Davie. "A lot of schools were talking about receiver, but I didn't want to depend on anyone getting me the ball and I knew I wasn't as fast as all the receivers out there today. So I knew I wanted to play linebacker and get after guys. I like running to the ball."
In the 'Cat opener against Vanderbilt, place kicker Stefan Demos missed one of his two field goal attempts and was two-of-three on his PATs. The next week, at home against Illinois State, he again missed one of his two field goal attempts and was four-of-five on his PATs. But Saturday, in Houston, he was a perfect three-of-three on both.
Now kicking, especially after a touchdown, superficially seems to be as easy as a tap-in putt. But, as Fitzgerald likes to point out, it is truly a four-headed monster whose visage is comprised of the snap, the hold, the protection and the work of Demos. Yet on special teams, he explained Monday, "A lot of times it's your next-level players, it's your 1Bs, typically a lot of young players, and early in the season you're going to go through some growing pains as they're getting their first experience.
"It's typically one-on-one battles and you have to do your job, do 100 percent of what you're asked to do. You don't have a lot of protection. . . On a kickoff return (for an example) it's one-on-one. There's a lot of room for improvement for us. . . I was encouraged by the step we took down at Rice. I think we ran better than we've ever run. But at the same time we've got to execute. That's what special teams is all about."
A sobering note was struck Monday when the talk turned to Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, who suffered a heart attack Saturday shortly after his Spartans toppled Notre Dame in overtime. When he heard that news, Fitzgerald admitted, he thought of Randy Walker, whom he succeeded after Walker himself died of a heart ailment. But he was not the only person Fitzgerald cited while discussing Dantonio, who is expected to make a full recovery.
He also mentioned Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill. Last week he spent four nights in the hospital after being admitted for dehydration. And Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker. He was hospitalized last week for complications from diabetes and missed the Hawkeye's loss to Arizona. And Notre Dame defensive line/special teams coach Mike Elston. He's back with the Irish now, but missed their Michigan game after being hospitalized with an unidentified viral illness.
"We were talking earlier, being a coach, you live kind of in front of the camera and the internet a little bit," Fitzgerald then said. "In a lot of professions there's a lot of people who have stressful jobs and tough situations. But. . . it's, it's tough. It's not just coaching. It's any profession. . . It's just reality. You've got to take care of yourself. If you want to be a great coach, you have to be healthy. But sometimes things are out of your control, obviously."
Health, just as obviously, is no small issue for coaches, who labor long hours, eat irregularly and often subsist on a diet that is no diet at all. These are realities well recognized by Fitzgerald and his staff, who undergo comprehensive physicals each off-season. Then during the season itself, said Fitzgerald, they take time to exercise Monday through Thursday (at least). But, he then added, "Nobody can beat (defensive line coach) Marty Long. He lost 60 pounds this off season. We were calling him Jared from Subway for awhile. But we (all) try to work out every day. You come to practice and you see how we coach. We coach like our hair's on fire."
As for him?
"I try to keep myself in shape to the best of my ability. I have a small issue. I enjoy food. But I do the best job that I can of staying in shape. I don't get overly concerned about my health. But obviously I try to stay in the best shape that I can."
On a lighter note, Fitzgerald was asked about leading cheers from the sideline during Saturday's game. "I'm just an educator, a teacher. I'm just educating our crowd on when to stand up and go crazy, which is third down on defense. . .," he said with a smile. "I don't know. I'm nuts. I like to have fun. I was King Celebration as a player. I like to have fun. I like when our fans have fun."
"It's like he's still a player out there. It's like he's one of us just getting us going," defensive tackle Corbin Bryant later explained. "We like that atmosphere."
"It's just that passion he has for Northwestern football," concluded Davie. "He bleeds purple and it kind of falls onto us and the younger guys who don't know the way yet. They see a role model in him and know what to do."
And finally, Fitzgerald, on his still-unfinished team: "It's good to be 3-0 and not where we need to be. It's encouraging."
Check out the full Skip Myslenski NUsports.com Archive!
Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter and become a fan of Northwestern Athletics on Facebook! Get the latest news, schedule updates, video and interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!