Therapy session’ helps leaders take charge

Tania Ganguli

By Tania Ganguli

The Daily Northwestern

The Friday night before the Wildcats played Wisconsin, they looked to their seniors for leadership.

“I’m a better coach when they do the talking, when they take ownership, ” coach Randy Walker said. “You could see it last night — when I see it I get out of the way. They were getting it.”

Walker said Torri Stuckey, Doug Szymul, Ray Bogenreif, Gilles Lezi, Louis Ayeni, Pat Durr and Jason Wright, among others, spoke to the team, calling their leadership the most understated factor in the Cats’ 16-7 victory.

Durr said one of the key points in the game was for the players to trust and connect with each other. During a meeting that was “like a therapy session,” the defensive players met with defensive coordinator Greg Colby. Instead of watching film like they normally do, the players talked.

“We needed to play together for one another,” Durr said. “Not for the coaches, for one another. That’s what happened in 2000. When you’re in the huddle and you look at your teammates and they look you back in the eye, you just know, you connect.”

The players were able to feed off Ayeni’s performance during the game as well. Wright said he was convinced that Ayeni’s return after a five-game hiatus due to injury was the difference in the defense on Saturday — and said it had an effect on the other side of the ball as well.

“Not only his play, but his presence on the field as a leader and an inspiration,” Wright said. “That got the offense motivated, too. We were on the sidelines getting excited because Lou was out there and playing well.”

DIRTY DANCING: After the game, Wright and sophomore defensive lineman Loren Howard said what they wouldn’t say before the game — beating Wisconsin meant more than any other win this season.

But Durr wasn’t shy about his dislike for Wisconsin, talking about bad blood between the teams and his anger about Wisconsin’s “cheap shots” in 1999.

After a game with no personal fouls on Saturday, Walker said he didn’t see anything borderline dirty and he wished Durr hadn’t said what he did.

“It doesn’t need to be said, but I don’t tell them what to say,” Walker said. “We don’t have a company line here.”

Durr said he spoke from the heart and didn’t regret saying what he did, but understood that Walker didn’t want him to give “billboard material” to Wisconsin.

“That’s how they played us in ’99, and we owed them,” Durr said.

DOUBLE DUTY: With starting kicker Slade Larscheid injured, the Cats started walk-on Joel Howells.

But after Howells kicked an extra point attempt and a field goal attempt into the back of the offensive line, punter Brian Huffman replaced him.

In addition to taking care of kickoffs and punts, Huffman made a 25-yard field goal and converted one extra point.

“There isn’t a better kid in this program than Joel Howells,” Walker said. “I told him now I’m going to make a change, but this will be a great experience and that door will swing open again.”

HOMEWARD BOUND: Homecoming brought many alumni to Ryan Field on Saturday. But one former NU student didn’t have to buy a ticket or even sit in the stands.

Former NU defender and current Oakland Raiders middle linebacker Napoleon Harris stood on the sidelines Saturday cheering on his former teammates.

“Maybe I should come to the games more often,” Harris said at his first NU game since graduating two years ago. “This game definitely reminded me of 2000 because they played with the same fire.”

Inches to go: Wide receiver Mark Philmore left the game with a knee injury. Walker said after the game he didn’t know about Philmore’s status. … Jason Wright went over the 2,000 yards career rushing mark. … Noah Herron had his first 100-yard rushing game of his career. … The game marked NU’s first win on Homecoming since a 2001 victory over Minnesota.