Football: Reserved Ariguzo lets his play do the talking

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Football: Reserved Ariguzo lets his play do the talking

Senior linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo hits Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson. The team captain has elevated his play this season in the absence of fellow senior linebacker Collin Ellis.

Senior linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo hits Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson. The team captain has elevated his play this season in the absence of fellow senior linebacker Collin Ellis.

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo hits Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson. The team captain has elevated his play this season in the absence of fellow senior linebacker Collin Ellis.

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo hits Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson. The team captain has elevated his play this season in the absence of fellow senior linebacker Collin Ellis.

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Sports Editor

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Chi Chi Ariguzo isn’t quite what you expect from the leader of a defense.

The senior linebacker is soft-spoken and careful with his words, conversing in elegantly concise sentences. It’s a demeanor that reflects the quietly impressive season Ariguzo is having on the field.

“He’s a fifth-year senior,” linebackers coach Randy Bates said. “He’s played all three linebacker positions. He’s been a great player for us.”

Ariguzo has played in all 11 of Northwestern’s games this year and comfortably leads the Wildcats in tackles with 92. In accordance with his versatility, the linebacker also has five tackles for loss (fourth on the team), two sacks (third) and four quarterback hurries (second).

The statistical production has been impressive in Ariguzo’s third year as a starter, but more important during a turbulent season for NU has been his leadership. With fellow senior linebacker Collin Ellis injured for much of the season and now retired from football, Ariguzo has stepped up to fill a void.

The linebacker’s teammates elected him captain in Ellis’ place.

“(Ariguzo) is more of a quiet guy,” Bates said, “but when he speaks, the guys usually shut up and listen.”

That’s especially been the case with the mentorship of redshirt freshman Anthony Walker, who replaced Ellis at linebacker. A major storyline this year has been how Ellis is tutoring Walker from the sideline, but Ariguzo has been right next to Walker on nearly every play.

“I’m out there … telling him just focus up,” Ariguzo said, “just helping him with his keys and what to look for.”

Ariguzo’s guidance was also important in helping the team recover from a disappointing 0-2 start, a period during which he says he reiterated the simple point of “it’s not over yet.”

He was right because a win over Illinois in the Cats’ final game will make NU bowl eligible after the team failed to qualify for postseason play last year. Ariguzo said playing in the 2013 Gator Bowl is one of his favorite college football memories, and the senior isn’t ready to leave without adding one more bowl win.

But whether Saturday is his last game or he gets another shot to play in December, Ariguzo isn’t about to hang up his cleats. The preseason all-Big Ten linebacker has his eyes on the NFL, and if his bulging biceps are any indication, he has the workout routine to match.

Ariguzo said he’s “in the 20 range” for bench press reps at 225 pounds, a common strength evaluation for players entering the NFL draft, but coyly dodged the assertion he’s one of the strongest players on the team.

His candor about his preparation reveals a lighter personality underneath the stoic shell fans see on game day. Quarterback Trevor Siemian jokingly identified his fellow senior as “thrifty,” an allegation that Ariguzo whole-heartedly denied.

“I just spend my money wisely,” Ariguzo said, smiling and sticking with his usual brevity. “I wouldn’t say that’s thrifty.”

And as composed as he is on the field, the Learning and Organizational Change major seems as indecisive as any other college student when it comes to life beyond football.

“I’m not sure yet,” he said, when asked what his plans are if playing in the NFL doesn’t work out. “I’ll figure that out and finish grad school first.”

Whatever he does after NU, the short-spoken senior’s presence will be missed long after he departs.

Email: robertpillote2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @BobbyPillote

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