Pope: If Thorson misses time, expect Andrew Marty to be Wildcats’ quarterback

Ben Pope, Sports Editor


Andrew Marty said he first met the man he may replace this fall over the cheesy aromas of a Lou Malnati’s pizza.

Marty, now a redshirt freshman quarterback, was then a junior in high school. Clayton Thorson, now a rising senior, was coming off a shaky but victory-laden first season as Northwestern’s starting quarterback. Together, they bonded over football at the popular Evanston pizzeria, Marty said.

Marty and Thorson’s past has been intertwined ever since. When Marty officially signed his letter of intent last February, he told the Chicago Tribune he’d “get in (Clayton’s) hip pocket and be a sponge.” When he enrolled last fall, he was then paired with Thorson in coach Pat Fitzgerald’s “big-little brother” mentorship program.

Thorson went down with an ACL injury in the Wildcats’ Music City Bowl win Dec. 29, thrusting Marty — along with rising sophomore Aidan Smith and rising junior TJ Green — into an unplanned position competition that may or may not, depending on the rate of Thorson’s recovery, end up mattering. ACL surgery recovery times range wildly, anywhere from 6 to 12 months. The shortest estimate would have Thorson returning to full health a month before NU’s 2018 season opener on Aug. 30 at Purdue; the longest would have him missing the whole season.

The Cats must nevertheless prepare as if they’ll need a starter other than Thorson for at least that first contest, and for numerous reasons, it seems clear they should turn toward Marty to fill the role.

Marty’s size would make the transition from Thorson — and hopefully from Marty back to Thorson mid-season — easiest for the rest of the season. The freshman from Cincinnati is listed at 6-foot-3, 218 pounds (and seems even taller in person), while Smith and Green are each 6-foot-2 and 205 and 202 pounds, respectively. Having a sturdy, tall quarterback who plays with the same composed, pro-style approach as the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Thorson will prevent other unnecessary strategy adjustments from having to be made.

As the youngest of the three competitors for the job — save for incoming freshman Jason Whittaker, a highly touted recruit who won’t practice with the team until summer — Marty’s age is also working in his favor. Thorson, regardless of his ACL status, won’t be in Evanston much longer; Fitzgerald might as well develop a permanent successor sooner rather than later.

Marty’s relationship with Thorson himself means the freshman will be able to get regularly direct and immediate advice from the veteran starter. Marty said Thorson has taught him about the team playbook, advised him about how to carry himself as a quarterback and shared lessons from his own experiences in 2015, when Thorson was a redshirt freshman himself and beat out elders Zack Oliver and Matt Alviti for the job.

There’s no reason to believe — all other factors aside — that Marty isn’t the best quarterback of the group regardless. He said there are some slight technical adjustments he’s seeking to make in his throwing motion, and that offensive coordinator Mick McCall is working with him on them, but that his “mindset is nobody is better than me.”

Marty backed up that confidence in high school, going 25-3 as a starter and throwing for over 3,200 yards and 43 touchdowns his senior campaign, and looked good in NU’s spring practices, too. If he can replicate anything near that in autumn, the Cats may not have the quarterback concerns they’re expecting at all.

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