Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Presenting the class of 2009

After Saturday’s victory at Michigan, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked about the character of his senior class

“I couldn’t be more proud of the seniors,” he said. “We’re where we’re at right now because of them.”

The 23 graduating seniors have been through a roller coaster of ups and downs in their four or five years as Wildcats. The seniors have seen the heights of the 2005 Sun Bowl and the euphoria of beating Ohio State for the first time in 33 years. They’ve dealt with the ignominy of blowing the biggest lead in NCAA history and the disappointment of coming up one win short of a bowl game last season.

And they have lived through the tragic death of former coach Randy Walker and the first three years of Fitzgerald’s coaching career.

With the Cats currently at 8-3 and assured of a bowl game, the seniors have received their share of accolades. They’ve racked up thousands of yards on the field and thousands of words in newspapers across the country. They will leave NU as the winningest five-year class in more than 100 years.Students, faculty and alumni alike know the seniors’ statistics and recognize their uniform numbers. But most fans know very little about the people who put on the purple helmets every Saturday

THE TWO TYRELLSOn Sept. 20, 2005, then-freshman Tyrell Sutton had his first day of classes. Eighteen days later, he rushed for a school-record 244 yards in a 51-48 upset of Wisconsin and vaulted himself into the national spotlight.Ever since, Sutton has led a dual life on campus: One part student, one part football god.

“I was taking a midterm with a guy, and I’d been sitting next to him for like nine weeks,” Sutton said. “So I introduced myself. I said ‘Hi, I’m Tyrell.'”

“And he goes, ‘Are you Tyrell, or The Tyrell? I said, I’m just Tyrell.”

Sutton has balanced being “just Tyrell” and being “The Tyrell” for virtually all of his college life. The DAILY started running a “Sutt-o-meter” every week in 2005, comparing him to other top running backs across the country. Sutton was named to a variety of all-freshman teams and was Big Ten Freshman of the Year – all before he ever took a final exam.

When asked how it felt to be the “Big Man on Campus,” the five-foot-nine senior tailback burst out laughing. But Sutton admitted that he sometimes likes not being noticed on campus.

“You kind of want to be recognized, but at the same time I love my solitude,” he said. “So it’s a good thing sometimes that people don’t recognize me out of the helmet. It’s an easier life.”

Since his superb freshman season, Sutton has been hampered by a series of injuries, including a left wrist injury that has kept him out of the past three games and may force him to miss NU’s bowl game. When he gets frustrated at his inability to play, the tailback turns to his No. 1 support group: his fellow seniors.

“Being around these guys, it helps to ease the pain,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about it, but you know they’re behind you and supporting you.”

Sutton named senior wide receivers Eric Peterman and Rasheed Ward as two of his best friends on the team. But he said he gets support from everyone in the NU “football family.”

Sometimes, the smallest gesture can make all the difference.

“I texted Eric after the game,” Sutton said, referring to the Michigan game, when Peterman caught a 53-yard touchdown pass. “I said: ‘I saw you point after your touchdown.’ He said, ‘I was pointing at you.’

“Little things like that keep you grounded, keep you humble. They make you proud that you’ve been around these guys for such a long time.”

THE TRENCH WARRIORJohn Gill has been battling the best offensive linemen in the Big Ten for four years. But in the beginning of this year, he also had to battle himself.

“Things didn’t go exactly like I had hoped early,” he said.

The senior defensive tackle was suspended for the Cats’ first game of the year for violating team rules. Named to the Outland Trophy watch list prior to the season, Gill was supposed to be one of the Big Ten’s leading defensive players. Instead, he struggled in the weeks after the suspension, compiling just 12 tackles in his first six games.

Other players might have tried to shake things up. But the three-year starter kept repeating the same mantra: Do your job.

“As soon as you try to make the big plays, that’s probably when you’re not going to,” he said. “You’ve just got to keep doing what you do, and they’ll come to you. That’s the way I’ve approached this year, just keeping working the same way, working my hardest. And things started to turn around for me.”

Plugging away week after week, Gill began to turn his play around. Starting on Oct. 25 against Indiana, the senior has been a force in the middle of the defense, racking up 23 tackles in the past four games.

Gill said the bond between the Cats’ seniors is crucial when dealing with adversity.

“We just have total trust in each other,” he said. “We know that when stuff goes wrong, every person’s going to do what they’ve got to do to turn things around.”

THE BRANIACWhen he arrived on campus, Eric Peterman had two goals: Play football, and be an engineer.

His coaches said there was no chance. But Peterman would not be denied.

“When I told (the coaches) I wanted to be an engineer, they looked down upon it immediately,” he said. “They told me there was no way I could play football and do engineering. It took me two or three weeks to persuade them.”

Eventually, the wide receiver won over the Cats’ coaching staff, and he transferred into the McCormick School of Engineering in Winter Quarter of his freshman year.

Since then, Peterman has juggled a grueling course load with the myriad responsibilities of a football player.

In his four years, the senior wideout has dealt with diehard football fans and sports-illiterate students alike. Peterman’s divergent hobbies have created a dichotomy in his college life.

“I kind of have two faces when I go on campus,” he said.

As Peterman has gone through school, the classes have gotten harder and his role on the football team has grown. While time management has become increasingly difficult for him, Peterman said he was thrilled to be a student-athlete at NU.

“Northwestern’s the best of both worlds,” he said. “Ivy League stature, when you look at academics, and playing in the Big Ten, one of the best conferences athletically in the country.”

Soon, Peterman’s football and engineering careers will both come to an end. Looking back on it, the senior wouldn’t have done any it other way.

“I have no regrets,” he said. “I’m an industrial engineering major, I’m working on an econ minor, and also a leadership certificate. It’s a lot of work, but down the road I think it’s going to pay off.”

THE FACE OF THE PROGRAMFor better or worse, C.J. Bachér has been most public player on the Cats for the past three years. The senior quarterback has received the most credit for NU’s successes and taken the most blame for its failures.

Before this season, Bachér had experienced more failure than success. The quarterback had an 8-9 record as a starter through the 2007 season, including a 1-3 finish last year that kept the Cats out of a bowl game.

Those losses took their toll on Bachér, who forced himself to “flush” the past.

“It gets frustrating, and doubt starts to creep in that you have to avoid,” he said. “But there’s going to be adversity on Saturday, and adversity in every game. We’ve definitely been prepared in my time here to respond to that.”

Bachér pointed out that this season, NU has followed each of its three losses with a victory. The senior has battled through personal adversity as well, returning from a hamstring injury to lead the Cats to a comeback win at Michigan.

The fifth-year senior has beaten every Big Ten team and seen
students storm the field after NU’s epic upset of No. 7 Ohio State in 2004. With his career winding down, Bachér hopes to end on a high note.

“It’s been a long, roller-coaster ride for us seniors,” he said. “We want to go out the right way and leave our mark on this program.”

THE UNSUNG HEROSutton, Gill, Peterman, and Bachér are all household names of NU football. The same cannot be said of Phil Brunner.

Yet the long snapper is just as important to the Cats as any of the other seniors.

“Every time Phil Brunner goes on the field, it’s for a big punt or a big field goal,” Fitzgerald said.

Brunner’s story may be the most remarkable on the team. The fifth-year senior came to NU in 2004 as a former high school quarterback and walked on to the squad. When he wowed coaches at a strength test, Walker moved him to linebacker, where he spent the rest of his redshirt year.

But Brunner wasn’t done moving around. In the offseason, Walker approached him and asked him to give long snapping a try. Eager to help the team however he could, Brunner agreed, and after the 2005 season, he became the starting long snapper.

For the past three years, Brunner has remained largely unknown, ceding the spotlight to his more high-profile teammates. And that’s just fine with him.

“It’s a good thing if you don’t know my name, because it means I didn’t screw up,” he said. “Even though I don’t get the glory, I’m having a great time playing Big Ten football at Northwestern.”

This season, Brunner has been at his best when the conditions are at their worst, snapping perfectly through a monsoon against Southern Illinois and a wintry mix against Michigan. Like Peterman, he is in the final stages of securing his major in engineering. And he emphasized that he has absolutely loved his experience.

“To come in here as a walk-on quarterback and not know if I’d ever get to play, and now I’m starting for my third year?” Brunner said. “I couldn’t dream of a better situation.”

THE FAMILYThese anecdotes are just the tip of the iceberg when comes to this senior class.

There’s wide receiver Ross Lane, whose football skills have grown from his love of other sports – all other sports. There’s linebacker Prince Kwateng, who referred to injured senior linebacker Malcolm Arrington as his “brother” and calls Arrington’s replacement, Nate Williams, his “adopted brother.” And there’s defensive end Kevin Mims, whom Fitzgerald referred to as “the technician” of the defensive line.

The sum of all these stories is the NU football family. These seniors have spent four or more years as a part of that family, affecting everyone from former rushing star Noah Herron to current freshman receiver Jeremy Ebert.

The wins and losses may eventually fade from the minds of these graduating Cats. But they’ll always remember their football family.

“I played with legends freshman year like (Brett) Basanez and (Zach) Strief and (Barry) Cofield, all the way up to the freshmen like (David) Nwabuisi and (Demetrius) Dugar and Alex Daniel,” Sutton said. “I’ll always have those memories.”


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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Presenting the class of 2009