Seniors hope to end NU careers with bowl game

Matt Baker

Northwestern’s seniors have seen almost everything in their time with the Wildcats.

Monumental wins, like NU’s 2004 upset over an undefeated Ohio State team ranked in the top 10, and monumental losses, like this year’s 20-14 loss to a Duke team that had dropped 22 straight.

The passing of coach Randy Walker, and the introduction of the Pat Fitzgerald era. Even a trip to the Motor City Bowl in 2003 and the Sun Bowl in 2005.

So as the Cats’ 17 seniors prepare for their final home game Saturday, linebacker Adam Kadela said he won’t know how he’ll feel as he walks off Ryan Field for the final time.

“It’s hard to believe it’s finally here,” Kadela said. “I remember coming in my freshman year just like yesterday. I can’t believe it’s about over.”

Despite the pre-game ceremony honoring their accomplishments, Kadela and others said the pageantry surrounding Senior Day does not disguise Saturday’s real importance: A win over Indiana would keep the Cats’ bowl hopes alive.

Wide receiver Tonjua Jones said he is trying not to get caught up in the emotions of his last home game at NU. After all, when you’re playing a violent sport such as football, any game could be your last.

“It’s just a football game; I’m going to go out there and give it my all,” Jones said. “When the ball goes up in the air, it’s just about playing football. I’m not really concerned with a shot clock or the scoreboard or anything like that. It’s just about playing hard and at the end of the day when they tally up the points, we need to have one more than them.”

In five years at NU, Jones, center Trevor Rees and safety Reggie McPherson have played alongside teammates who have gone on to the NFL, some who have left the team and others who have graduated and moved into the real world.

And as they prepare to move from the team and into the future, those friendships are what they said they will miss most about the Cats.

“I’m an only child, and they’re all my brothers,” McPherson said. “They seem just like brothers to me.”

Rees said the changing faces has been the only real shift in the program that he’s seen. Fitzgerald replaced Walker last year, but other coaches and players have filtered in and out of the team.

Despite newcomers and departed members of the program, NU’s core principles are the same now as they were when they lured him to the Cats.

“We still hold a lot of the same values in our program, but I think obviously with different head coaches and different coaches coming in throughout the years, it has changed a little bit here and there,” Rees said. “But as a whole, I think the program’s on its way up, and I feel proud to be a part of it.”

When the seniors entered NU, a bowl berth was viewed as a welcome surprise to fans. But as they finish their final season, the thought of not making a bowl is a disappointment.

“I think the main thing is just trying to change this program to a winning program,” McPherson said. “A lot of people see Northwestern as just a mediocre program, sometimes they’re here to upset a couple teams. But we’re here to be on top of the Big Ten and change it. As a senior, that’s what I’m trying to do: leave on top and turn the program around.”

NU’s seniors have a chance to accomplish McPherson’s goal of going out on top. Two wins in its final two games would likely secure the Cats’ third bowl bid since 2003.

While Kadela said leaving Ryan Field with a victory is important for a proper send-off for the seniors, it’s equally important as a way for NU’s captains to give back to the team.

“We want to do anything we can for this team because it’s done so much for us,” Kadela said. “We want to be able to give back, and all we can control right now by giving back is just winning and getting to a bowl game.”

Reach Matt Baker at [email protected]

Senior linebacker Adam Kadela leads Northwestern with 101 tackles. He, along with the Cats’ other seniors, hope the high expectations established during their time at NU stays with the program after they leave.