In his four years at Northwestern, senior quarterback Kain Colter has gained a reputation as a Renaissance man. He has been a dual-threat quarterback, a wide receiver, a premed student, a Goldman Sachs intern and a model.
Over the past couple months, Colter has added politician to that list. During the summer, Colter went on record saying players should be able to profit off their likenesses. This past Saturday, Colter took another step by donning a wristband with the letters “APU” (All Players United).
As the battle over pay continues to sway between players and the NCAA, Colter and others are making their views loud and clear. The NU signal caller is involved with the National College Players Association, which serves “as the voice for college athletes in their pursuit to secure basic protections.”
“It’s a group that I started getting involved with early summer,” Colter told the media. “Basically every week, we have a conference call with players from around the nation representing a bunch of different conferences, different schools. The leader of that is Ramogi Huma, who played at UCLA.”
According to Colter, the group of players was brainstorming a series of ideas to get their message out when they decided upon wearing APU wristbands.
“We wanted to come up with a small gesture to represent what we believe in and players coming together for a bigger cause to promote a change I feel like needs to be made,” Colter said. “We came up with the APU idea, all players united, and it just turned out that this week was the week we decided to do it. Guys from around the nation did it and a few guys on our team did it. It wasn’t just me.”
Although Colter may not be entirely comfortable with all the attention he is getting, it speaks volumes to the player he has become. Colter is the starting quarterback in a top 20 program, and when he makes a statement, audiences are intrigued. His noise is loud noise.
Colter’s main qualm with the spotlight is that a focus on him deters from the main point of APU.
“People shouldn’t take it as an individual message,” Colter said. “It’s a sign of players coming together from all over the nation, not just football players, basketball players, tennis players, to be able to have our opinions heard and our needs met instead of having to go through a middle man, having to go through the coaches, having to go through the administration or athletic directors. I feel like we should have the right to voice our opinions and we’re educated we’re articulate enough to voice our concerns.”
Staying consistent with his focus on unity, Colter did not discuss the other Wildcats who wore APU wristbands in the win over Maine. Prior to the game, he notified many of his teammates about his intended actions, but did not pressure others into following suit.
“I asked guys on the team if they felt comfortable, do it, and a handful of guys felt comfortable and a handful of guys wanted to see how it played out. I was happy with the awareness that got raised and the publicity that came with it.”
Although Colter says not every player had knowledge of the APU wristbands before kickoff, “everyone knows about it now.”
If there is any criticism in the locker room for Colter this week, it is ironically that he did not act in a team-first way. Coach Pat Fitzgerald expressed annoyance earlier this week over Colter’s surprise attire.
Pat Fitzgerald via CBSSports.com on Tuesday:
“I told him I was disappointed in him, not that he believes in the cause and not that he was taking a role in that but … what we try to do collectively is team focused.”
Colter finds himself in a predicament because he is unsure how his higher-ups would have reacted if he discussed the wristband before the game.
“The whole APU thing, it goes against having to ask permission to voice our opinions,” Colter said “I know that he felt a little bit blindsided by it, but in my opinion, as players, we didn’t need to ask permission from a coach or an athletic director or anything like that.”
On Wednesday, Fitzgerald reiterated he is not in disagreement with Colter’s motives, but he is disappointed in the route Colter took on Saturday. ‘Cats fans need not stress, as it appears there is no icy ground between the coach and quarterback.
“I’m fully in support of what he’s doing. I would just like it to be within the team structure,” Fitzgerald said. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for him as a person, for him as a student and obviously him as a player. I have been pretty steadfast in my comments believing what’s best for the student-athletes. I believe in our guys, I believe in what they support, I think we gave back to about 85 or 86 different causes for about 2000 hours for community outreach last year. Just because this it is a hot topic now, we’re talking about. Quite frankly, I think it’s really positive for the student-athletes. There’s ways that we want to do it within our team and those are the things that him and I talked about.”
Likewise, Colter respects his coach and understands why the coaching staff deems his actions a mistake. He expects more maturity on the part of his teammates and himself in the future.
“I don’t think they’re unhappy with the fact that we did do it, but just the fact that it wasn’t a whole team-wide thing, but the thing is this was our first installment,” he says.
As has been the theme of Fitzgerald’s tenure at Northwestern, he keeps energy on the positive side of the spectrum. Rather than expressing passive aggression toward Colter, Fitzgerald will use the experience to continue growing his quarterback and teammates into men.
“When guys see an opportunity to create change, I’m a big fan of it, but they have to understand what’s in it for themselves and things of that nature and what can come along with it,” he said. “It’s a teachable moment, but I’m fully supportive 100 percent behind Kain.”
Although Colter could not determine the most important monetary issue facing college athletes, he did focus on one particular area of the current legal battle: insurance. With constant injuries at the NCAA level, many of which affect athletes long after graduation, Colter at least wants some sort of guarantee in health money.
“There needs to be a guarantee that players aren’t stuck with medical bills after they leave with long-lasting injuries that they suffer from football,” he says. “Essentially, they’re hurt on the job and then they’re stuck with the medical bills if they do need a surgery down the line. That’s one of the biggest things. With the TV revenue being generated, they could use a portion of that to help out the players in some way. I feel like there needs to be a trust fund generated. I don’t feel like there needs to be a direct compensation, but there needs to a trust fund generated somehow that players can assess after they graduate. I feel like that would put incentive for graduation rates to rise.”
After his concussion in week one, Colter can open a new can of worms with head injuries. The NFL recently settled on $765 million to make up for the concussion marks the league has left on former players. Colter said the NCAA should take a look at what the NFL is doing and use it as a blueprint, especially seeing collegiate athletes do not have their own union to fight with.
“Even Obama has made statements,” Colter said.
Colter and Fitzgerald both agree this is not about the two of them as individuals. Their actions and statements have become a focus of the issues facing college athletes this week, but the duo is just a speck in the big picture.
“This is bigger than Northwestern,” Colter said. “I love Northwestern and I love my experience. I feel like people are making it me vs. Northwestern, us vs. the institution. It’s not that at all. It’s players coming together for a better cause.”
Fitzgerald has eyes locked in to Ohio State.
“It’s got nothing to do with me and frankly right now, it has nothing to do with our team,” he said. “I’m focused on the team and whatever’s best for us to get prepared for our challenges as we move forward and most importantly, for us to improve. That’s my focus and that will continue to be my focus.”
Colter is also gearing up for his first primetime ABC experience when the ‘Cats take on the Buckeyes at Ryan Field a week from Saturday. He says he is unsure if he will wear the wristband during the nationally-televised game. According to Fitzgerald, the team leadership council discussed the APU topic earlier this week.
What is for sure is that Colter is satisfied with his stand versus Maine.
“It got a lot of publicity and a lot of recognition,” he said. “It was a small thing. I didn’t think it was going to get blown up as big as it did. I’m glad it did. I’m just glad it’s sparking conversation now.”
Colter did not speak of other players on other teams who are in support of APU, but he did explain his relationship with his political allies who may be enemies on the field.
“Even though we compete every Saturday, we need to come together for a greater cause. I’m not going to have any individual benefit from this. I’m going to be gone after this year and there’s not going to be any changes before I leave, so this is for the guys that I play with, for all the guys around the nation, younger guys, that hopefully some changes can be made hopefully by the time they go through. Then they’ll be able to see those changes.”
Aside from Colter’s wardrobe, Fitzgerald was not entirely enthused by Colter’s play on the field last Saturday. In fact, neither of his quarterbacks was all that impressive. The 35-21 victory over Maine did not bring the pleasure a two-touchdown win should bring to the eyes of coaches and fans.
“I think there’s a couple throws [Kain] would like to have back. I think there’s a couple things Trevor would like to have back, but a wins a win,” Fitzgerald said. “I think there are a lot of things we can improve with all 22 guys, offensively and defensively, and continue to improve in the kicking game.”
Most of the starters did not participate in practice drills Wednesday as they continued to rest during the first half of the bye week. Unlike normal bye weeks, the backups are getting some more crowds than usual this week, as a certain #5 continues to practice. Senior running back Venric Mark took snaps in the backfield, most of which came with RS sophomore quarterback Zack Oliver under center.
Away from the x’s and o’s, Fitzgerald was giddy over Tuesday’s scheduling announcement. As LTP commented this morning, Northwestern will host Northern Illinois at Ryan Field on September 6, 2014. The game fills the whole left vacant by Vanderbilt after the SEC school ended its scheduling marriage with NU in 2012 for games on the 2013 and 2014 schedule.
The new 2014 non-conference schedule now includes last year’s BCS National Championship Game loser, Notre Dame (away), last year’s Orange Bowl loser, Northern Illinois (home), a rising Pac-12 team, California (home), and FCS Western Illinois (home). The ‘Cats also get Penn State in State College and Michigan at home (Wrigley Field?) in their two crossover games.
“I wouldn’t have scheduled the game unless we wanted to have our schedule where we wanted it to be. We’re excited for the challenge,” Fitzgerald said.
In recent seasons, the athletic department has been praised for scheduling big name opponents, while critics believe many of those teams were overrated. With two 2012 BCS opponents on the 2014 docket, it is tough to criticize Fitzgerald’s scheduling tactics for the future.
As for Ohio State, Fitzgerald is not forcing his players to spend their Saturday nights camped out in front of a TV at the athletic facility. He says he will take the bye week to enjoy with friends and family in his own home. Of course, a ton of college football will be screened.
“I’ll just watch it as a fan and enjoy the whole day as a dad and a husband,” he said “I’ll rest a little bit. The whole program has a day off to just enjoy college football. I don’t know what time everybody’s coming over, but we’re going to have a little tailgate in the morning, watch GameDay and all that stuff, BTN show, have some fun and then watch some games, hang out with kids. It’s going to be fun.”
Fitz said he watched some game snapshots, but as of Wednesday morning, he had not watched the cutups yet. He said he expected to watch them this afternoon with the coaching staff.
With OSU junior quarterback Braxton Miller’s health still up in the air, Fitzgerald will have to prepare for both Miller and senior Kenny Guiton. Neither is easy to defend against.
“I’ve seen the stats and watched the games. Both guys move the ball, both guys are explosive, both guys make big time plays. They’re very very talented from the snapshots I’ve seen. They’re got a terrific supporting cast and a very physical offensive line, so they’re two very dynamic football players,” Fitzgerald said.
While he may act casual about it, Fitzgerald will likely put most of his week’s energy into watching the Wisconsin at Ohio State game on Saturday night. It is certainly among the most anticipated non-NU games in his tenure as head coach of the Wildcats.
Fitzgerald also has immense respect for Urban Meyer and Gary Andersen. When a reporter joked about how Fitzgerald may be rooting for the game to go into multiple overtimes, the coach kept a straight face.
“I just hope they all stay healthy,” he said. “It’s like I say to every coach when I see them before the game: just stay healthy. It should be a great Big Ten football game.”
As the week progresses, starters will return to regular practice and continue to study Ohio State. Homecoming cannot come soon enough.