Samdup Miller and Travis Whillock headline four NU players opting out of 2020 season


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Travis Whillock makes a tackle against Minnesota. The senior safety was one of four Northwestern players to opt out of the 2020 season.

Andrew Golden, Gameday Editor


When Northwestern takes the field next Saturday against Maryland, they will be short a couple of key pieces.

In a team statement released Friday, it was announced that senior defensive end Samdup Miller, senior quarterback Aidan Smith, senior safety Travis Whillock and redshirt sophomore tight end Jason Whittaker were all opting out of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We completely support the decision each young man made during the spring and summer as they evaluated their personal circumstances,” Coach Pat Fitzgerald said in the statement. “All four Wildcats have been outstanding teammates throughout their time in our program. Nothing about the support we promised their families during recruitment will waver, with the full complement of scholarship, academic, sports medicine and professional development resources available.”

This announcement comes after a hectic week of college football, when University of Florida’s football team faced a team outbreak and University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban tested positive on Wednesday.

Back in Evanston, the Wildcats will have big shoes to fill, as every player except for Whittaker on the roster started a game last season.

Miller is certainly the Cats’ most experienced player to opt out with 35 career starts entering this season — the most of any returner coming into this season. But NU has the competitive depth to replace him. In a press conference last week, defensive coordinator Mike Hankitz said he’s been impressed with senior defensive end Earnest Brown IV and sophomore Eku Leota, who have both shown promise when given the opportunity.

At the safety spot, Whillock and senior safety J.R. Pace have formed a dynamic duo for the past two years. Without the Texas native roaming in the secondary this season, defensive backs coach Matt MacPherson could look to junior Bryce Jackson, who has primarily served as a backup safety, but has played over the past couple of seasons.

Fortunately in the quarterback room, Smith wasn’t expected to start over the likes of graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey, junior Hunter Johnson and even a healthy sixth-year TJ Green. The tight ends room also has plenty of depth with graduate transfer John Raine, as well as redshirt junior Trey Pugh and junior Charlie Mangieri who both saw playing time last season.

The Wildcats will need all teammates to step up as they look to bounce back from an uncharacteristic 3-9 campaign in 2019.

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