Football: Northwestern playing more youth as season winds to a close


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Evan Hull carries the football. The freshman running back can only play in one more game if he is to retain his redshirt.

Peter Warren, Print Managing Editor


For the first time in half-a-decade, Northwestern played a regular season game knowing its postseason hopes were dead in the Lake Michigan water.

The Wildcats will not play in a bowl game in the winter, the first time since 2014, and have to finish two more contests before packing up until next season.

Now, coach Pat Fitzgerald has to walk a fine line of getting his younger players reps and sending his senior class out on the best note possible.

The UMass game was the first instance of working this balance as 12 different players saw the field for the first time all season, while 72 NU athletes played in the game.

Some of them, like freshman wide receiver Genson Hooper Price and freshman defensive lineman and walk-on PJ Spencer, were seeing their first ever collegiate action on a football field. Others, like redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Whittaker and breakout true freshman running back Evan Hull, were included as prominent factors in the team’s gameplan.

“We are out of bodies so we are playing as many guys as we can,” Fitzgerald said. “At the same time we are trying to play the redshirt game for those guys.”

By that, Fitzgerald was referring to a rule instituted before last season. Players are allowed to play up to four games without burning a redshirt. The 12 players who first appeared against the Minutemen, as well as others on the roster, have a chance to play in the next two games and still retain another year of eligibility.

The youth movement in the UMass game can also be attributed to some other factors. Almost every positional group is dealing with injuries, which has forced younger players to step up, like freshman defensive end Adetomiwa Adebawore, who has started the past two weeks.

When on the road, only 74 players can travel with the team and dress for the game. At home, there are an unlimited number of players who can, allowing for Fitzgerald and the staff to rotate more players in and out.

The score of the game also affected who appeared on Ryan Field as well, as someone like true freshman quarterback Zac Krause would not have appeared if the score wasn’t a blowout.

Even with the freshman getting more reps, Fitzgerald has to also give 12 seniors and graduate students their final swan songs. For these players — who entered this season with high hopes for their final dozen games — it hasn’t been the ending they were having dreams about before opening day.

Senior center Jared Thomas agreed that the season has not gone according to plan, but that the team has learned a lot of life lessons and that there is still a lot to play for these last two weeks.

“We just got to have a lot of personal pride for ourselves, for the legacy that this program has been built on,” Thomas said. “It’s not about just shutting it down and quitting and saying ok I can’t do this anymore. It’s how you react to it.”

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