Oct. 4, 2013
Resuming his weekly Friday preview posts, Skip Myslenski examines the freshman class of 2010, who beginning Saturday will look to further cement its place in the history of Northwestern Football.
They came from cities scattered across the country. There was Kain Colter from Denver and, from Orlando, Rashad Lawrence and Trevor Siemian. There was Tony Jones from Flint and, from Houston, Venric Mark and Will Hampton. There was Brandon Vitabile from the small New Jersey town of Edison and Ibraheim Campbell from up the road in Philadelphia and, from Evanston itself, Chance Carter.
Their backgrounds were different, then, when they joined the 'Cats back in 2010, but there was no difference when it came to their collective mindset. For there, inside of them, it was as if they had all emerged from the same womb. "In my class," explains Lawrence, the wideout, "our vision was to come here and basically change the program ... (and) to prove to the country that Northwestern can be a legit team."
"That's pretty accurate. I don't think I could have said it better myself," agrees Jones, another wideout. "That was definitely the vision this class entirely had. We wanted to come in here and really just show everyone what Northwestern football could be. We wanted to restore this program and we believed, coming to play for a coach like Coach (Pat) Fitzgerald, we could get it done."
"That's one of the main reason I came to Northwestern," picks up Colter, the quarterback. "Obviously, we're not known as a football powerhouse and we might have had some rough years in the past. But I know all the guys in our class, we talked about changing that whole thing, and being the guys that built something, and leaving our legacy at Northwestern, and being remembered as the group of guys that changed the whole program. That's what we were looking forward to."
"That was something we always talked about," chips in Campbell, the safety. "We always heard how things were improving from when the (older) guys were freshmen to when we came in. So we knew progress was being made and we knew we were there to continue that progress. So this is where we wanted to be, right about where we wanted to be."
"I actually never had the conversation then," wraps up Vitabile, the center. "But people talk about it now, how we could see freshman year the pieces coming together with all the guys we had."
Those pieces did indeed coalesce and with that the `Cats arrive at this homecoming weekend undefeated, nationally ranked, well regarded and primed for a prime-time date with No. 4 Ohio State. Hype-and-hoopla have preceded their meeting and will be there again come Saturday evening at Ryan Field, and this is not only how those pieces once envisioned it. It is also how they were encouraged to think. "Those are some of the things we talk to each recruiting class about," explains Fitzgerald, "being the difference makers that take this program from being a perennial top program to being that top program and being consistent at it. The names you've just mentioned are guys who made a lot of impact on us being where we're at today. That's starting from Day One, when they came in.
"From Day One they've diligently worked. But I think also they love football. That's the one thing that jumped out to me that's probably going to be the hallmark of these guys, especially the senior class. They've all embraced everything about football and a lot of it's not fun. A lot of it's awful. Winter workouts. Spring ball. Summer workouts. Winning Edge. The grind of two-a-days. But they've done a great job embracing it and leading guys in that direction.
"That's all you can ask."
Back on Day One, back in the early summer of 2010, some from this group were already on campus. "At that point," remembers Colter, "we were just young and, I guess, getting a feel for each other. But as the summer progressed and we got to know each other and saw each other play and saw how good we were, we knew we had something special here. Then we just wanted to keep improving. We knew we could do big things."
"It was just the way we all clicked," picks up Jones. "On unofficial visits, official visits. Then once we all got here on campus that first summer -- myself, Kain, Rashad, Venric, Trevor -- we all have been together since Day One. We all just had this vision that we were going to take over this program and that we were going to lead this thing to achieving great accomplishments. That was something we definitely talked about. Definitely just demanding that respect this program is striving for. Definitely taking this program to the next level and, like I said, showing everyone what Northwestern football is all about."
"I definitely heard those conversations," avows Campbell, who did not arrive on campus until August. "I wasn't part of them. I wasn't as talkative when I first got here. That's the type of guy I am. But I definitely remember those conversations happening and being excited about it. It was something that was very visionary, very exciting to think about. It made me excited to get on the field, really."
And just where did their belief in their collective self come from?
"As a wide receiver, for starters, you've always got to have that kind of confidence in your game," says Lawrence. "As a football player, though, this is what you dream of, this is what you live for. I think if you don't have that belief then you shouldn't be playing the game. So I guess that belief was just already instilled in me. It was ingrained in me before I got here."
"I think just confidence," echoes Colter. "We're all very talented players and we believe in ourselves. But I think the bigger confidence came when we actually gelled together. My class in particular, we're all real close. So we bonded together and I guess that gave us confidence when we're out on the field. We all had confidence in our own abilities. But once we had confidence in each other's abilities, that kind of took it to the next level."
"It's the confidence you have to have to be able to compete at an elite level," concludes Campbell. "If you're sitting there playing against one of the best teams in the country and you think you're not supposed to be there, you've beaten yourself already. So obviously you have to know that you're supposed to be there and know that you've prepared for this moment. We've been preparing since we got here, all of us. So we're as prepared as we'll ever be."
They came from cities scattered across the country, but each was imbued with a singular vision. Now that vision is their reality and their collective moment is at hand. "It feels good," Jones says of that. "Obviously we've got to live up to it. But it's a great opportunity in front of us. We know we can't get too hyped up about it. But at the same time we're a confident group and we know it's time to go out there and make plays. It's time to live in the moment and make it happen."
"It's exciting," Campbell finally says. "It's an opportunity of a lifetime to show the country what Northwestern football is all about."
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