Northwestern held its annual media day Wednesday and it might have been the most matter-of-fact outing that I’ve attended at the school. The program runs so smoothly with such a consistent message that it seems to run itself. No surprises, which I guess is the point.
By contrast, I remember showing up for the 2000 media day -- when every player was available on the Ryan Field grass -- and we were all blown away by how huge everyone looked. Everyone from Conrad Emmerich to Dwayne Missouri to Zak Kustok to Jon Schweighardt had their jersey sleeves rolled up to showcase all of the weight-room work they’d done. Remember, they had just finished the first full off-season of the Randy Walker era.
Anyway, sorry for digressing. Let’s hit some points here.
1. Wrote a story on senior kicker Stefan Demos for Thursday’s paper. As always, he was full of honest quotes and original thoughts. Ordinarily I wouldn’t scoop myself and use a quote before it’s published, but we’re all friends here. So here you go…Demos on the aftermath from the Outback Bowl:
“I think I had enough time to dwell on it three months out (until spring practice),” Demos said. “Two-three weeks after the game, where everyone on the campus and the community reminded me of the game, it was enough to dwell on it. I should’ve just locked myself in a cage.”
2. Why does Northwestern redshirt almost all of its freshmen? Because it gets them a crucial head start on getting strong enough to play in the Big Ten. Chatted with defensive tackle Jack DiNardo and defensive end Kevin Watt, a pair of redshirt juniors who’ll start this year, for a feature down the road.
When DiNardo played his senior year at Hinsdale Central, he weighed 240 pounds. Now he’s at 290. When Watt played basketball his senior year at Glenbard West, he weighed 215. Now he’s at 265. Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz loves DiNardo’s motor and Watt’s technical prowess. Everyone compares Watt (who’s taking Corey Wootton’s job) to former DE Kevin Mims, who developed into a huge factor on the 2008 Alamo Bowl team.
3. Talked with junior safety Brian Peters and told him it looked weird to see him intercept a pass with two hands during Monday’s practice. Last year, if you recall, Peters broke his left hand on the Tuesday after the Oct. 17 loss to Michigan State, but was back on the practice field wearing a cast on Wednesday and started against Indiana on Oct. 24. Peters played the final five regular-season games with that cast.
Peters wound up with two one-handed interceptions last season, though one came before he broke his hand (against Miami) and the other came a few days after he had his cast removed (in the Outback Bowl against Auburn). “In the bowl game, I used one hand just I’d done that for the six weeks prior to that,” Peters said. “It really took awhile (to re-learn to catch with two hands). I’ve done some ball drills with (QB Dan) Persa throughout the summer to get my two-hand coordination back.”
For Peters, catching with one hand came naturally after a standout high school career as a center fielder (and pitcher).
4. The ‘Cats are starting a new tradition this fall. After they wrap up their normal week of Camp Kenosha practices, they’re going to stop on their way back to Evanston and conduct a practice at the Naval Station Great Lakes in North Chicago. It’ll be held on Monday, Aug. 23.
“We’re looking forward to giving back, sharing some time and some camaraderie with those that are stationed up there,” said head coach Pat Fitzgerald. “Hopefully a great tradition is going to be started. There’s a great tradition of football there. Hopefully it’ll be something that’s kind of a hallmark of our program.”
Fitz mentioned Great Lakes’ tradition. It won the 1919 Rose Bowl over the Mare Island Marines. In 1944-45, with the fabled Paul Brown at the helm, Great Lakes went 15-6-2. The 1944 team finished No. 17 in the final AP poll. The end of World War II coincided with the end of Great Lakes’ prowess. The base fielded a team for just 11 more games from 1946-57.
5. A few personnel matters: Redshirt sophomore Quentin Williams will be the third DE who rotates with Vince Browne and Kevin Watt, but the coaches want to identify a fourth guy. There has been nothing but big praise for weak-side linebacker Bryce McNaul, which suggests he might have a chance to unseat strong-side incumbent Ben Johnson as the third LB. They seemed to split first-team reps on Monday.
Also, true freshmen Venric Mark, who returned four kicks/punts for TDs as a high school senior and had seven other total TDs called back due to penalty, could win the punt return job. Hunter Bates, Charles Brown and Jordan Mabin also are in the mix to replace the graduated Brendan Smith. Fitzgerald plans to keep running backs Stephen Simmons and Jacob Schmidt as his kick-return combo.
6. Fitz skewered the current recruiting climate, where the relative merits of a team's recruiting class are based on the number of "stars" attached to the prospect's resumes by Rivals, Scouts, ESPN and other gurus.
(By the way, Northwestern already has 13 commitments from the Class of 2011 -- a record at this juncture of the recruiting cycle. None of them is ranked higher than a "three-star" recruit).
"I have no idea what a star means. I was a negative-star rated player. No disrespect to those that rate young men, (but) they don't work for us. They don't work with us. What's important in our program has no direct, or will ever have a correlation, to a star rating. I think hits on a web site probably have a little bit more to do with the star rating than anything.
"It's just amazing how certain schools just have certain star-rated players every year. Then you look at how many fans are logged on for $9.95 (per month) to their web site and it's a direct correlation. It's just absolutely amazing.
"But we use a lot of scouting services as references and as information to start. Then we go out and we've got a very specific plan about how we go about recruiting student-athletes. I'm not sharing that. It's kind of the hallmark of our evaluation...I think we've got a really good plan and our coaches stick to it. It's got nothing to do with stars, I can promise you that."