Football: How Jeremy Meiser became a dominant force on Northwestern’s defensive line

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Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Jeremy Meiser stands before a play. The graduate defensive lineman is Northwestern’s sacks and tackles for loss leader.

Drew Schott , Gameday Editor

Following the 2020 season, first-year defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil and defensive line coach Marty Long searched the transfer portal as part of their effort to retool Northwestern’s defensive line. 

Despite the return of junior defensive end Adetomiwa Adebawore and graduate defensive tackle Joe Spivak, the Wildcats needed to fill the hole left when defensive end Earnest Brown IV declared for the NFL draft, defensive end Eku Leota transferred to Auburn and defensive tackle Jake Saunders graduated.

O’Neil prioritized a veteran, while Long sought out someone who could contribute to the unit’s depth. Jeremy Meiser fit the bill for both. The Old Dominion defensive tackle committed to NU on Feb. 3, with his exact role in the defense unknown.  

“We were looking for depth, not necessarily a starter,” Long said. “That’s what I told him. And he said, ‘I just want an opportunity to come in and compete.’” 

Meiser has certainly made the most of his opportunity. The graduate student and Cincinnati native leads the Cats in both sacks and tackles for loss through five games. An ability to fight the soft shoulder in the pass game and use his motor to find the football — qualities that stood out to O’Neil on his game film with the Monarchs — are on display each week. 

He elevates the game of NU’s defensive linemen, according to Adebawore, and hones his craft on the practice field and in the film room. Over the summer, as Meiser learned the Cats’ scheme, the unit told Long that Meiser was a good fit for the system. Now, he is a crucial piece of the defense, with five tackles for loss and three sacks to go along with 12 tackles.

Long said Meiser’s technical skills help his teammates significantly, like correctly placing his hands and feet when at the line of scrimmage and blocking out and shedding the block. These tactics make him a force at the point of attack. It’s an impressive feat, especially for someone who started the 2021 season having not played a game since Nov. 30, 2019. 

Meiser did not participate in the 2020 season, since the Monarchs opted out for pandemic reasons. Now, in Evanston, he’s one of the driving forces for a defense playing in one of the country’s most difficult conferences.

“I think he wanted the chance to play Power Five football,” O’Neil said. “He came in and he was on the third string. Then he earned his way onto the second string and then he’s earned his way onto the first string. He’s playing, if not the best, one of the best at the D-tackle position.”

Arriving at Old Dominion as a two-star recruit, Meiser grew into one of the Monarchs’ most consistent defensive players, finishing his career with 64 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks. In 2019, he earned a career-high 24 tackles and racked up a career-high-tying five tackles and a tackle for loss against Florida Atlantic.

When he departed for NU, a challenge awaited. Meiser would be playing under his fifth defensive coordinator in college football. Yet his knowledge of multiple schemes, which O’Neil complemented, eased his transition to the Cats. 

“When you first come into a program, you feel a little bit like a freshman,” Meiser said. “You don’t know anyone, you don’t even know the coaches, you don’t know where the training room is. Once we got comfortable, we (were) able to bounce ideas off of each other.” 

Meiser has contributed to stifling defensive performances and catalyzed momentum-changing moments. He finished with six tackles and two tackles for loss versus Duke. Against Ohio, he tipped a pass that led to an interception by sophomore safety Brandon Joseph. According to O’Neil, Meiser leads by setting the example with his playmaking. He also leads off the field. 

Adebawore said the veteran communicates new ideas and increases the awareness and play of those around him. He called Meiser’s presence in the defensive line room “amazing.” 

Following NU’s 56-7 loss to Nebraska — in which he finished with one tackle — Meiser said he is focused on improving his physicality and pass rush. When the Cats take the field this weekend against Rutgers for Homecoming, Saturday’s game will not just be another opportunity for him to don the purple-and-white.

It is another chance to prove himself on the Big Ten stage.

“I’m a person that believes that you have an incentive to do anything,” Meiser said. “When I’m looking at film and I see a person across the line that’s really good and has a chance to play at the next level or he’s just dominating someone, it makes me think, ‘Alright, I need to put in extra work so that I can play,’ and that carries over to my play.” 

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Twitter: @dschott328

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