Football: Hunter Johnson announced as Northwestern’s starting quarterback


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman.

Hunter Johnson drops back to throw a pass. Johnson was named Northwestern’s starting quarterback for the 2021 season on Tuesday.

Drew Schott, Gameday Editor


Hunter Johnson will be leading Northwestern’s offense as the Wildcats take the field against Michigan State on Sept. 3.

The senior and former-five star recruit was named NU’s starting quarterback Tuesday, beating out South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski and senior quarterback Andrew Marty.

“I don’t think there was epiphany,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We took a look at the metrics, we took a look at where things were at. We made a decision on who we felt could lead us to win a Big Ten Championship. And as we go here in the last half of camp, that’s Hunter Johnson.”

Fitzgerald said Johnson’s leadership and playmaking ability has the coaching staff excited. In terms of the quarterback depth chart, Fitzgerald said “we’ll see how things unfold,” but added that Hilinski and Marty are going to help push Johnson.

“I feel great about the depth,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m really proud of Hunter with everything he’s been through to step up and earn our starting job.”

Johnson, who transferred to NU from Clemson in 2018, last started in 2019 as a sophomore. He struggled during the Cats’ 3-9 campaign, completing just 46.3 percent of his passes for 432 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.

The Indiana native battled injuries and inconsistency throughout the season. After earning the starting job over senior signal caller TJ Green, he finished a season-opening loss to Stanford — in which he was replaced by Green — with 55 yards and three turnovers.

Johnson started the next three games before being replaced by Aidan Smith, who he ended up relieving on Nov. 2 against Indiana — his first playing time in over a month. Prior to the game against the Hoosiers, he took a break from playing to support his mother during her breast cancer treatment.

Against Indiana, Johnson was injured in the third quarter and did not return until three weeks later against No. 10 Minnesota. His 2019 season concluded during the Big Ten West clash after he left the field following a sack early in the game.

Last year, Johnson saw time in two games, but threw no passes as Peyton Ramsey quarterbacked the Cats to a Big Ten West Championship and Citrus Bowl victory.

Now, Johnson is tasked with leading an NU squad seeking its third Big Ten West title in four seasons.

“He’s been through a lot,” Fitzgerald said. “I think he’s grown and I think he’s learned a lot. When he’s confident and he lets his talent go out there, it’s as good as we’ve had.”

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