Football Notebook: Fitzgerald happy to be back on the practice field

Pat+Fitzgerald.+The+head+coach+of+Northwestern+football+said+the+Wildcats%E2%80%99+limited+practice+opportunities+are+key+for+helping+NU+prepare+for+their+season+opener+against+Maryland+on+Oct.+24.+

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Pat Fitzgerald. The head coach of Northwestern football said the Wildcats’ limited practice opportunities are key for helping NU prepare for their season opener against Maryland on Oct. 24.

Drew Schott, Assistant Sports Editor


Football


After a summer in which the Big Ten football season was both postponed and restarted, coach Pat Fitzgerald feels like Northwestern’s return to practice is a victory.

“I kind of feel like we’re 1-0 right now,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s really, really exciting. I think our guys are going to be stoked.”

With two-and-a-half weeks until the season opener against Maryland, the Wildcats are in the full swing of competition. On the field, Fitzgerald wears a face shield during drills and said the team is back to practicing with contact.

Additionally, coaches are checking in with players to see how practices are going, as well as to ensure the Cats are physically and mentally ready for the start of the season.

“We’ve got to put every policy and procedure we can in place to keep our guys healthy and safe,” Fitzgerald said. “And then, just get ready to adjust accordingly.”

Off it, NU is taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing masks and conducting team and unit meetings on Zoom. Fitzgerald said he has even entered his own “pseudo-bubble,” traveling only between work and home.

While taking advantage of their limited practice opportunities, Fitzgerald said he and his staff are receiving medical advice from Dr. Jeff Mjannes, director of sports medicine, and Kevin Kikugawa, senior associate athletic trainer. He hopes these efforts can not only limit the program’s COVID-19 exposure, but also allow NU to perform on the field without any health concerns.

“Our number one goal is to win,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re playing to win the Big Ten West, we’re playing to win a Big Ten Championship.”

Fitzgerald confident in offensive line

Last season, the Cats’ offensive line was strong. With team leader Jared Thomas at center and Rashawn Slater staring at tackle, the position group was a highlight of a disappointing campaign. With Thomas graduated and Slater opting out of the 2020 season to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Fitzgerald has said senior Gunnar Vogel, senior Nik Urban and junior Sam Gerak have stepped into the leadership void left behind by Thomas and Slater. The three have started a combined 50 games in Evanston and all were nominal starters in 2019.

Fitzgerald said the return of practice has only increased the work being done by the group.

“It’s kind of tough as an O-lineman to compete in shorts,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s been great competition and we’ll see how things continue to go.”

Odds and ends from Fitzgerald

Some Cats players have decided to opt out of the 2020 season, but Fitzgerald did not elaborate because he said he wanted to focus on the players that were playing the forthcoming season

He added that an official announcement will come in a few days and the football program will support them in their decision.

Fitzgerald also said he heard from the Big Ten that if a game is not played, it will be counted as a no contest.

Additionally, he said every NU player is eligible and as a result, “everybody will play,” because of the NCAA’s decision to give all fall athletes an extra year of eligibility.

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Twitter: @dschott328

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