Football Notebook: Fitzgerald says QB competition is a ‘battle’


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Pat Fitzgerald speaks to the media before the 2018 Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.

Benjamin Rosenberg and Peter Warren


At Big Ten Media Days last month, Big Ten Network announced sophomore Hunter Johnson as Northwestern’s starting quarterback. Johnson may be the favorite to win the job, but the Clemson transfer has not won the job yet.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald reiterated that Wednesday at the Wildcats’ Media Day.

“The reality is it’s a battle,” Fitzgerald said. “Everybody in our program knows the battle is ongoing.”

There are six quarterbacks on the roster — Johnson, senior TJ Green, junior Aidan Smith, sophomore Andrew Marty, redshirt freshman Jason Whittaker and freshman Zac Krause. However, it is widely believed either Green or Johnson will be under center for the first snap of Week 1 against Stanford.

Fitzgerald listed some of the things he is looking for in his starting QB. He said he wants a guy who can execute the offense, take care of the football, has earned his teammates’ trust when he steps on the field and someone who can lead NU to a championship.

Green said he believes the quarterback room is very strong and does not know who will earn the job, but is confident in his progress so far.

“Everybody in that room is good. Everybody deserves to be there,” Green said. “It’s going to be a competition. It is going to come down to the wire for sure.”

Mayo decides to hang up the cleats

The Cats released the official 2019 roster before Media Day started, and there were a few names missing from last year’s roster.

The most notable name missing was defensive back Alonzo Mayo. Mayo played in 22 games over three seasons with NU, including five starts during the 2017 season, after redshirting his first year on campus.

“He’s had a great career,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s onto the real world, not the one on MTV.”

Joining Mayo in the “real world” is wide receiver Steven Reese. Reese played in 15 games in his career, but never caught a pass.
Fitzgerald added that superback Eric Eshoo, linebacker Jango Glackin, superback Brian Kaiser, wide receiver Mason Suitt and wide receiver Jackson Tirmonia all medically retired.

Fitzgerald also confirmed that linebacker Nathan Fox was no longer a part of the program.

“He’s, I believe, going to transfer to play at (Houston), is what I read,” Fitzgerald said.

It had been reported last month that Fox was transferring to Houston as a graduate transfer.

Despite the reports of Fox’s transfer, as well as the change of his social media profile to say “Houston linebacker,” Fox is not listed on the 2019 Houston roster. The Houston athletic department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Secondary looks to be strong

NU has battled injuries in the defensive backfield throughout the last two seasons, but in some ways those injuries have been a blessing in disguise, allowing younger players to see game action early in their careers. Fitzgerald said the Cats’ depth in the secondary this year might be the best they’ve had since he took over as head coach.

“I’m excited about that group,” Fitzgerald said. “We had to play a lot of young guys because of injury. They were going through the reps you’d hope they’d get in practice, on the field. They’ve learned from it and they’re really hungry to improve.”

With cornerback Montre Hartage now with the Miami Dolphins, NU has an open spot opposite senior Trae Williams. Junior JR Pace was the only starter who was consistently healthy last season, and he is back this season at safety. He will likely start alongside junior Travis Whillock, who played in 10 games last year and had 57 total tackles.

Williams said the secondary is healthy right now and that he is excited to be a mentor to the younger players.

“It’s always next man up,” Williams said. “We were tested last year, so we have a lot of guys who have started at least a Big Ten game or a meaningful game. I like to be able to give that knowledge to the younger guys. I have a lot of game experience that I can give to the younger guys, who are going to need it throughout the season.”

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