Football: Following Pro Day, Rashawn Slater to leave legacy at Northwestern

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Ryan Kuttler/Northwestern Athletics

Rashawn Slater. The Northwestern offensive lineman is projected to be the first Wildcat selected in the opening round of the NFL Draft since 2005.

Drew Schott, Web Editor


Football


Ahead of the 2020 Big Ten Championship Game, coach Pat Fitzgerald reached out to Rashawn Slater, who was training for the 2021 NFL Draft in Dallas with offensive line coach Duke Manyweather.

Fitzgerald invited Slater to Indianapolis to watch NU chase its first outright Big Ten championship since 1995. He declined, telling Fitzgerald that he didn’t want to be a distraction to the team. But the Texas native said he was “the first guy watching the game and rooting them on.”

Slater returned to Evanston on Tuesday for NU’s Pro Day, reuniting with 10 of his teammates in front of representatives from all 32 NFL franchises at Ryan Fieldhouse. Ranked as the No. 7 overall prospect by NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, Slater is considered one of the top offensive linemen in the 2021 Draft.

From starting at right tackle in the first game of his collegiate career to shutting down former Ohio State defensive end and reigning AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young, Slater’s 37-game Cats career was filled with individual success, highlighted by an consensus All-Big Ten Honorable Mention season in 2019 in which he gave up zero sacks and only one quarterback hit.

Now, the former three-star recruit — who received just five collegiate offers — is leaving the shores of Lake Michigan as one of the greatest offensive lineman in NU history.

“The improvement for Rashawn, just pop on the tape and watch it,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s put the work in and we’re really proud of him. (He’s) a guy that’s going to come in ready to compete right away to start.”

Slater, standing at six-foot-four and weighing 304 pounds, flourished during Pro Day, bench pressing 225 pounds 33 times and running his 40-yard dash in 4.88 seconds. Despite an arm length of 33 inches — lower than average for NFL offensive tackles according to Jeremiah — he is not concerned about having to move to the interior. In fact, he said he would embrace playing any position on the line “as long as that’s what’s best for the team.”

But after a strong Pro Day, success in the trenches against some of the toughest defensive lines in college football and rigorous training in the Lone Star State, Slater believes that he deserves to play on the outside.

“I think I’m the best tackle in the draft,” Slater said. “I have a high level of confidence about that.”

Fitzgerald said the NFL franchise who drafts Slater will gain his strong work ethic and leadership. As the Cats trudged through a 3-9 campaign in 2019, he said the offensive lineman “always stayed positive and he did his job.”

Slater also pushed his fellow teammates in practice, with defensive end Earnest Brown IV — a fellow NU invite to the NFL Scouting Combine — calling him “the best tackle I’ve ever went up against.”

With Draft Day less than two months away, Slater is looking to become the Cats’ first opening round draft pick since defensive lineman Luis Castillo in 2005. Whether he lands at No. 13 with the Los Angeles Chargers — as The Draft Network’s Jordan Reid predicts — or at No. 12 with the San Francisco 49ers —according to the NFL staff at The Athletic — or another franchise remains to be seen.

But if one thing is certain, it is that Slater will leave Evanston as one of the greatest players to ever don the purple-and-white uniform. And he hopes his story — from the 653rd-ranked prospect in the 2017 recruiting class to a likely first-round pick — sets a strong precedent for the future of NU football.

“Northwestern’s such a great program,” Slater said. “They do everything right here and the way they develop us as athletes, I think I’m not going to be the last by any means. Hopefully, this is the start of a new normal.”

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Twitter: @dschott328

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