Football: ‘The foam will rise to the top’: Why TJ Green could be Northwestern’s starting quarterback in 2020


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

TJ Green holds the Hat after Northwestern’s blowout win against Illinois in 2019. The graduate hopes to recover from the foot injury that sidelined him in 2019 and become the starter.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Editor


As Northwestern started warming up to open their first spring practice of 2020, head coach Pat Fitzgerald was surprised by one player in particular.

Graduate quarterback TJ Green was just jogging on the sidelines, but even that had Fitzgerald in disbelief.

“I didn’t think we’d see him doing anything on his feet at all,” Fitzgerald said. “So the steps have been encouraging.”

Six months ago, Green injured his foot in the Wildcats’ season opener at Stanford. The sixth-year quarterback will be out for the spring as he recovers from the long-term injury, but by August he’ll be competing again for the starting quarterback spot he nearly claimed in 2019.

“I’m on the right trajectory, and I’m meeting my goals at the right time,” Green said. “The final goal is being ready to play this upcoming season. We’ll see how I feel throughout the spring going into summer.”

Fitzgerald said Green was the only quarterback who was prepared to lead NU last season, but Green never got the opportunity.

Green and Hunter Johnson traded first team reps all of last summer. Green was the veteran with full command of the playbook, and Johnson was the highly-touted but inexperienced transfer from Clemson.

The decision went down to the wire, and NU announced Johnson as the starter minutes before kickoff against the Cardinal. But Johnson threw an interception on his second pass of the game, and he had just 3 passing yards on his first three drives.

Green took over in the middle of the second quarter, and he went on a 41-yard drive on his first series of the season. In his second series, Green led the Cats to the redzone, but then he took a sack that ended his season. He dropped back at the five yard-line, stuck his leg out and was pummeled by a defensive lineman.

“I didn’t know exactly when I was going to get in, but I prepared like a starter and I thought I played really well,” Green said. “In the two series I had, we were moving the ball well, and I got into a rhythm. But then I made a mistake that ended up costing me the season.”

Fitzgerald said an injury like Green’s would typically end a lineman’s career, but as a quarterback, Green has a better chance to make a full recovery. He started more intense workouts on his feet last week, and he’s aiming to be back on the field for the preseason.

Just because Green could play didn’t mean he was going to play for the Cats. Green had options for his final season of college eligibility, and he would have had a clearer road to playing time had he gone somewhere else. But Green stayed in Evanston, planning to recover in time to be the starter in September.

“The culture and the guys is the main reason why I wanted to stay,” Green said. “For my sixth year, I could have gone anywhere, but I really wanted to stay with these guys, these coaches and this culture. Now, my goal is to be able to start the season.”

NU has four quarterbacks on the roster with experience. Senior Aidan Smith started a team-high seven games last season. Junior Andrew Marty commanded the Cats to a blowout win over Illinois in the last game of the season and received first-team reps at practice Tuesday.

Green is the most proven of the bunch. After the Cats had the lowest passing efficiency rating in the country last season, Green said he’s confident that NU will have better quarterback play than the team did in 2019.

“After the season we had last year, we know that we have to stick together,” he said.
“We want to win games, and the best way to do that is to stick together as a group and help each other out. Then the foam will rise to the top.”

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Twitter: @2021_charlie