If you’ve ever met Northwestern QB Kain Colter a few things probably come to mind. The first thing, you think, is his diminutive size. Kain is shorter than you imagine. When you put him in the context of Big Ten QB category he’s tiny. In the nanosecond it takes your brain to digest and process the above you’ve already moved past that and internally raised an eyebrow to the feeling that you’re being drawn in to him. Kain emanates self-confidence, warmth, respect and a host of other traits that transform rational thought in to an emotional state and the thought bubble spits out a word that takes all of this in to account. You think “man, he’s likable”.
The amazing thing about this personal encounter is that the same thing explains without ever having an in-person encounter. Clearly Kain’s versatility for Northwestern reinforces how rare of a special athlete he is. It was not uncommon for Kain to play QB on a designed run, not leave the field for the next play and make a catch and then on the same series deliver a first down pass. When you look his 2011 accomplishments they are truly remarkable. He was 34 receiving yards shy of a triple 500 – 500 yards or more passing, receiving and rushing. He led NU in rushing with 654 yards at 4.8 ypc. Colter completed 67% of his passes (54/81) for 671 yards with 7 TDs an only 1 INT. But those are just numbers.
A good friend of mine is a relatively recent transplant from Manhattan, Kansas and as you would suspect, a Wildcat fan of a different purple team. His son, a stellar middle school athlete, is a huge fan of Kain Colter and they’ve picked up a few games to go to this season. You may find it hard to believe, but I had little to no influence on this decision. When I asked him what the real reason is, his son Grant said “I have to see Kain Colter in person”. You watch him scat around the field to different positions and amaze when you see him on TV. The most memorable (and there were a ton) play in the young Colter history was his now famous TD dive against Nebraska. Colter was able to turn the corner on the long side of the field and take off from the four yard line in the air, switch hands with the ball and superman his way to touching the pylon for a huge TD. That one play, to me, encapsulates the “X factor” of what Colter brings to the ‘Cats. There is a bounce-in-the-step factor that has you glued to him thinking and saying “what next”.
Most men, especially in football parlance, are loathe to use unmanly words like “cute”. This sentence would sting if I were Kain, but essentially he is just that – he’s cute. Yes, I’ve crossed in to the man-crush zone. Women have a different word for him and it’s likely something to do with a lot of heat. Bottom-line is Kain has a magnetic force to him that extends far beyond the stereotype that cones along with being a collegiate QB at a Big Ten school (aka “BMOC”). Kain brings a spirit and fun factor that translates through a TV screen. In person you can feel it as well. As a fan, we’ve begun to train ourselves to the game within the game of watching and thinking “OK, where is #2 on this play?”. “Cute” isn’t mutually exclusive from awe-inspiring and that is just what has so many of us excited about 2012.
The conventional question mark in the Northwestern and college football community has been Kain’s downfield passing. There is merit to this. It’s been well-documented that Kain had a shoulder injury in high school that limited his passing ability. Plus, the caveat to the triple 500 club stats from above that was missing was that he was our BACK-UP QB in 2011. With only 81 passes in an entire season and the majority of these throws coming in the first three games of the season (24 vs BC, 13 vs EIU, 23 vs Army) the judgment pool is a little thin. Kain won me over as a leader after the Army game. He had a very poor game. He knew it, we knew it, Army knew it. Mick McCall and Fitz were too slow to pull him and put Trevor Siemien in the game despite the fact everyone in that stadium could feel it just wasn’t Kain’s day. He was 12-23 passing, but he was simply off. Kain stepped up after the game and shouldered ALL the blame of the loss. This was obviously not the case, but his willingness to step up and say what he said had me as “all in” from that point forward. That performance hung a cloud of question marks among fans. With each passing week Kain’s versatility would slowly erase the pain of the Army game. Dan Persa worked his way back to full-time QB and Kain became spot duty QB and more often than not it was a designed run out of the QB spot. Kain was turning heads with his running and getting fans off their feet with incredible catches like the bomb he caught at Iowa or his play against Michigan. He put up triple digit receiving yards against Indiana and the silver lining of a season that was never quite fully Dan Persa at 100% is we enter a season with a seasoned QB ready to go. In the MCCOT bowl game Colter did all sorts of nifty things, but fans, self included remember Kain overthrowing a wide-open Jacob Schmidt during a comeback that brought you back to the downfield touch/accuracy question mark. However, I have faith in Kain for 2012.
To be fair, I have faith in Mick McCall who despite not figuring out how to transform our highly productive yardage in to a higher point per game result has been magnificent in developing QBs within the NU spread offense. We recently put the RB position under the microscope and tried to explain some disturbing trends. Well, the QB position at NU has become “our” position in the Big Ten. The productivity and transition from CJ Bacher in 2008 to Mike Kafka in 2009 to Dan Persa in 2010 and Persa/Colter in 2011 has been nothing short of spectacular. We’re coming off a season where our fearless leader, Dan Persa, admitted to being nowhere close to 100%, yet beat his own NCAA passing record for accuracy (73.5%). There is a trend among fans that in retrospect is downright humorous.
When CJ Bacher got injured in the 2008 Indiana game, the questions about “can Kafka pass downfield” came to light. Kafka would go on to set the then Big Ten QB rushing record with a 218-yard ass-whooping of Minnesota which I’ll never forget. He also threw a couple of brilliant passes including an over-the-shoulder TD to Jeremy Ebert that seemed to say to me “any questions?”. Yet, the off-season bantering about Kafka’s passing persisted and in 2009 he put all doubt to rest by leading us to a January 1 date with Auburn in the Outback Bowl. You’ll remember that Kafka went down when we were beating Penn State on Halloween that year and Dan Persa got thrust in to the game against his childhood favorite team. Persa struggled in that game and much like Kain Colter post Army took 100% of the blame and was so over-the-top hard on himself it was hard not to instantly root for the guy. Persa filled in for Kafka in a clutch situation a week later at Iowa and delivered a third down strike while taking a vicious hit that was a not-so-subtle message that everything would be just fine in 2010. The question on Persa was “yeah, but can he throw downfield?” Back-to-back NCAA accuracy record setting seasons later and I think it is time we trust the system. Kain Colter is going to be able to throw just fine.
Colter threw at a 67% clip in his limited passing last season. The conventional point, counter point is that “he’ll be fine because our system dictates 5-10 yard passing routes (Dan Persa averaged 8.0 yards per attempt in 2011, Colter averaged 8.3 ypa) while others will retort with “yeah, but can he make that downfield throw to stretch the “D” ?”. At this point, Mick McCall has earned my trust in developing top tier Big Ten QBs. All eyes will be on our OL this year as the ‘Cats boast the best and deepest WR corps we’ve ever had. It happens to be extremely underrated as many have forgotten about Tony Jones and I’m confident (for no reason than I’m being positive and looking at NCAA trends) that 5-star WR/USC transfer Kyle Prater will get to play. Even if Prater doesn’t get cleared, we will be loaded at WR.
You can bet after last year’s Heisman campaign for Dan Persa which fizzled after Persa reinjured himself in the summer, there will not be Heisman hype for Kain Colter. However, you won’t be able to see any messaging publicly on billboards, digital advertising or other that doesn’t feature Kain Colter. The guy is going to sell tickets in 2012 and beyond. My hunch is that by any metric we can conjure up, by the time Kain is done at NU he will be up there in the top five alltime fan favorite category. Whether we measure this by jersey sales, applause at reunions or visitors on a website to read an interview, Kain’s “it factor” is real.
Speaking of Moving Tickets…
We added a pair to the LTP Season Ticket Challenge thanks to Todd E. who upgraded his pair of season tickets to a four pack. Well done Todd and thanks for getting us THIS close to 25% of our 200 ticket goal. Tivo the Nebraska game today, invite some friends over and share some Kain Colter highlights, cut and paste the above post and let’s get past the 50 ticket mark. Email me at email@example.com with some more season ticket sales news!