Happy Thanksgiving everyone! As you feast with family and friends and offer thanks for all that you have to be thankful for, it’s time for us to pay tribute to the 24 Northwestern Wildcats – a combination of 15 fifth year seniors and 9 seniors (who will not return despite another year of eligibility left) – all of whom will take Ryan Field for one last time Saturday just before 11 am ct in our season finale against Illinois (2-9,0-7).
Candidly, while there a few starters and key contributors among this bunch, many of these players have had few moments on the field that jump off the page, but that is even more of a reason why we should pay tribute. Those lonely January mornings when they’re enduring grueling 5 am workouts and the countless unofficial practices in the spring and summer, taking pounding hits and pushing themselves beyond their limits. All this in the name of making their teammates better and for the hope that maybe, just maybe, situations would arise that would call for them to step in and step up. Many of them have done just that. We’ve come to the point when fifth year seniors are the norm, and as such, this class has continued to raise the bar in terms of total wins in a five year stretch, just as the class last year had done, and hopefully, next year’s class will as well. Let’s reflect for a minute on their collective achievements:
This fifth year class set foot on campus prior to the 2008 season and has totaled 38 wins to date with a 9-win ’08, 8-win’09, 7-win ’10, 6-win ’11 and 8-win season in 2012 to date. They also hold the distinction of being the only senior class to reach a bowl game every single year. Of course, they have a chance to be part of a 10-win season – the first since 1995, and be the first senior class to be part of a winning bowl team in 63 years. Here are some highlights of their tenure, courtesy of NU Sports Information:
• Apperances in the Alamo Bowl (2008), Outback Bowl (2009), TicketCity Bowl (2010) and Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (2011).
• 20 Big Ten wins, including victories over all but two teams in the conference (Ohio State, Penn State)
• Five wins vs. nationally ranked teams: #20 Minnesota (2008), #8 Iowa and #. 17 Wisconsin (2009), # 13 Iowa (2010) and of course, last year’s win over #9 Nebraska (2011) in Lincoln.
I’m hopeful that fans will do two things this Thanksgiving week. First, rally friends to come out to Ryan Field and help give this team a senior send-off it deserves. Second, get to your seats a bit early so you can stand and cheer as each player walks out with their parents or guardians. They deserve a very loud standing ovation for their accomplishments, dedication and effort. Now, let’s review some of the shining moments from the 24 players:
We’ll start with the true seniors, who have decided to forego their fifth year of eligibility.
At the superback position, we bid farewell to a trio of ‘Cats – converted former QB Evan Watkins, Tim Riley and Brian Smith. Evan is most remembered for getting thrust in to the spotlight after Dan Persa’s season-ending ruptured Achilles injury and having the unenviable task of starting the game at Wrigley Field, which had become a major national spotlight due to the Wrigley factor. My favorite Watkins memory, though, came from a clutch third down he threw at Indiana which helped us to secure a win in Bloomington in 2009. For Tim Riley, I’m really sad to see him go, especially after his memorable TD reception last week against Michigan State which was huge. Riley has made some key blocks in clutch situations this year and may go down as one of the most productive alltime ‘Cats on a per catch basis – he’s got three career receptions, two of them going for TDs (the other was in the Meineke Car Care Bowl vs Texas A&M). Brain Smith is the third departing senior SB and we thank you Brian, for all of your hard work and dedication.
At linebacker we lose Roderick Goodlow and Will Studlien, both true seniors. Both have been hampered with injuries throughout their career and while I can’t cite the specific game or play, I have vivid images of nasty full body hits by Roderick both at LB and on special teams.
Rounding out the true seniors are Davon Custis and Anthony Battle from the defensive line and OL Taylor Paxton, along with WR Drew Moulton. The four departing players have worked extremely hard in practice battling for playing time, but find themselves several players back in the rotation. We wish them nothing but success and harp on Fitz’s mantra that when you come to Northwestern you will play only six or seven days a year in Ryan Field, yet you’ve got the rest of your life to worry about and a degree from this school will set you up for that.
We move on to the 15 fifth-year seniors, and we’ll start in the secondary. Saturday will be the final home gave for the secondary fouresome of S Hunter Bates, S Jared Carpenter. CB Demetrius Dugar, and CB Quinn Evans. Bates has had a true journey, prior to Venric Mark he was our punt returner and he was a regular contributor in the secondary, although, he has suffered some significant injuries in the past two seasons. Hunter has always been a hustler on special teams and is one of those unsung guys in the program. Jared is coming off of his best game as a Wildcat as he was a key part of a defense that had four takeaways. He has been one who has been very Peanut Tillman like in stripping the ball as of late as well as delivering some vicious hits. Jared had a huge INT of MSU’s Andrew Maxwell as well as delivering the ball dislodging hit on the Spartans’ final pass attempt. Carpenter’s best game may have been against Michigan, though, as he tallied seven tackles and two PBUs in that game. Demetrius Dugar you know very well, as he’s been rotating in the starting lineup and back-up role at CB all season. He’ll be the first to tell you it has been a roller coaster ride, as teams have challenged him all season long. I was so happy for him at Michigan picking off Devin Gardner in what I thought was the game sealing play, but regardless it was a moment of redemption for a guy who has battled to do his best all season long. As for Quinn Evans, his one year stint at NU turned out to be a blessing as the Stanford graduate worked his way in to the starting role at CB and turned out to be a valuable piece of the injury plagued secondary. You wonder what we would’ve done without him this season.
We move on to the anchor of the defense, DT Brian Arnfelt. The Lake Elmo, Minnesota native is one of the ‘Cats four captains, which alone speaks volumes about his impact on this team. He has been a machine in his first full year as a starter and seems to have a highlight in every game. Whether it was the sack against Vanderbilt or that key forced fumble before the half in the same game or his forced fumble against BC, every week a key play on D centered around Arnfelt. His push up front has been one of the key reasons for the dramatic improvement of the ‘Cats front seven against the rush.
Then there is Bo Cisek. This guy seems like one of the biggest characters on the team and he’s been immortalized for wielding a Star Wars light saber with the team singing the fight song after the Iowa game. You see his wide body every single punt as he stands between Brandon Williams and any would be tacklers. Not surprisingly, no one has yet to succed in getting past him. There is no doubt, should we win our bowl game, Bo will find himself front and center in the trophy shot. Along with Bo, placekicker Steve Flaherty departs. The normally consistent Flaherty has been out there for years on kickoffs and my favorite stat is when he bests his own total for kickoffs in a game, which currently stands at 10 (vs Indiana) as it means we’re scoring a ton.
On offense, we say goodbye to #8, Demetrius Fields. The senior WR has two plays that stick out to me in his career, and they both ended with the same exact pose and the same exact result. The first was his game-winning catch on the ill-fated TD pass from Dan Persa in the final minute of the Iowa game in 2010. Fields caught the perfectly thrown ball and raised his finger and head to the sky, signaling “we’re #1″. Then, in the final minute of the 2012 season opener at Syracuse he hauled in a gorgeous TD catch from a perfect Trevor Siemian pass and replicated the same exact gesture. It was a career high 83-yard day for Demetrius, who is the leading receiver on the team with 26 receptions this season and the Dallas native boasts seven career TDs. Saturday will be Demetrius’ 37th career start. We wish you well #8.
Tyris Jones, our short yardage RB, will be among the departing fifth year seniors. Tyris earned a scholarship having worked his tail off as a walk-on and has become a blocking specialist and key member of special teams in addition to spelling Venric and Mike Trumpy for a play here or there. Tyris’ single biggest memory for me, though, came in this year’s Iowa game when he blocked a punt standing straight up, which we recovered inside the five yard line and helped us to start piling up points in one of our more convincing wins of the season.
We finish our tribute to the seniors by saying thank you to the four offensive linemen who will be sorely missed. Neil Dieters, Chuck Porcelli, Patrick Ward and Brian Mulroe were all instrumental in Northwestern forming a team identity around a run game featuring Venric Mark this year. For every Venric Mark highlight, and man have there been a ton of them, it usually started with a gaping hole. Mark’s electric TD runs vs Nebraska and Minnesota and his near 99-yard TD vs Iowa all featured picture perfect blocking. Ward and Mulroe have been constants on the left side of the line, a place we seem to favor as a result, while Dieters and Porcelli have been part of a rotation that might be the most improved element of our team this year. The right side of our line was troublesome in the opener against Syracuse, and has worked mighty hard to thwart what opposing coaches have been scheming to exploit. Ward deserves extra special mention as he is an Academic All-American and received an $18K grant to pursue further studies after his time at Northwestern thanks to the National Football Foundation. He also made the move from right tackle to left tackle in his final year, and didn’t miss a beat. Saturday will be his 37th start. Mulroe leads all ‘Cats with 38 career starts and was honorable mention All Big Ten a year ago and he and Ward should be getting hardware this year as well.
DE Quentin Williams, a member of the ‘Cats ever-growing “club club” says good-bye to Ryan Field on Saturday. Quentin has had a brilliant senior year, batting down balls, racking up TFLs, assisting on sacks and has just been an overall consistent presence at a key spot on the ‘Cats front seven. He’s going to be sorely missed. Then, there is David Nwabuisi, who’s ultimate shining moment came just last week in his 43-yard bob and weave pick six to start the third quarter and really give NU the momentum it would need to beat Sparty. The LB has been a special player this year having swarmed to the ball, stuffed gaps and been versatile in pass coverage as a co-captain seems to do. He’s 10th in the B1G in tackles and had a career best 18 tackles this year agains Iowa. He’s one of those heart and soul guys on D who will really be missed in 2013.
Thank you seniors. Now, enjoy the moment and be sure to channel that emotion and take care of business. It’s time to take back the hat.
I’d like to give thanks to so many people who support what we do here at LTP and have afforded me the benefit of meeting so many new people and develop friendships that I never would have had otherwise.
Thanks to PRR for his dedication to LTP, along with Brian DeConinck, Brett Kurland and Tim, our man who manages the map.
Thanks to Morty Schapiro and Jim Phillips for their tireless dedication and relentless efforts to make sure Northwestern continues to improve and do so in a way that doesn’t compromise academic integrity.
Thanks to all of you, who make this community a fun place to celebrate, consternate and commiserate depending upon the day. I don’t even know your names, but know your “handles” and your passion.
Thanks to my family for supporting my insanity of work/hobby/life balance.