Football: Northwestern’s brotherhood on and off the field has fueled them through the season’s adversity


Alyce Brown/Daily Senior Staffer

Northwestern’s offensive line huddles up to make a play before going down for the snap. The Wildcats brotherhood on the field will be a crucial factor in Saturday’s faceoff with Minnesota.

Skye Swann, Assistant Gameday Editor

When tough times approach, the weak vanish and the strong remain ready to fight for victory. This mentality describes Northwestern’s football program in more ways than one — regardless of the outcomes, the squad is a brotherhood through thick and thin. 

Ahead of another difficult contest against Minnesota (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten), the Wildcats’ (1-8, 1-5 Big Ten) fueling factor is their camaraderie on and off the field, according to junior running back Evan Hull. A central component to NU’s offense, he said the team’s bond powers them through hard defeats — such as last week’s 21-7 loss to No. 2 Ohio State — and inspires them to give one hundred percent on the field.

“I think what really shows growth is everybody sticking together through (this season),” Hull said. “That’s not something you can measure but you can feel just in the locker room and out on the field.”

The Cats will need a brotherhood bond Saturday as they face one of the most prolific offensive units in the Big Ten conference. With an impressive run game and star studded running backs like sixth year running Mohamed Ibrahim, who has rushed 1,083 yards thus far in the season, NU’s defense and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil will be put to the test once again. 

However, the Cats’ performances in the trenches against Ohio State — especially under the extreme wind conditions — was something of which coach Pat Fitzgerald said he was proud. The secondary held their own with one of the best offenses in the No. 2 Buckeyes, silencing Heisman Trophy candidate C.J. Stroud to a season-low of 79 passing yards.

Junior defensive back Cameron Mitchell attributed the group’s brotherhood to the trust the players have with one another. He said the defensive line has made strides down the stretch this season, noting the individual play compared to their collective movement as a whole. Mitchell’s role as one of the leaders of the defense pushed him to really be a leader for the younger players on the team and demonstrate to them the beauty of the bond the team creates with these games.

“Our secondary is a really experienced group and we have been playing with each other for a little while,” Mitchell said. “Just going out there and trusting each other and knowing what we’re all capable of is a big deal.”

This leadership has been a crucial factor to NU’s calm composure on both ends of the field. Whether it’s the players on the field or the coaching staff, the Cats have relied on a strong belief in one another’s ability to compete against more accomplished opponents, despite the eight-game losing streak. 

Yet, the squad’s offense must pull out all stops against a mediocre Gophers’ defensive line. Although starting quarterback Brendan Sullivan left the Ohio State game early due to an injury, his vision and ability to capitalize on the blitz plays could cause trouble for Minnesota. 

“Our staff put together a really good plan to be prepared for the elements,” Fitzgerald said. “We pretty much executed except for a couple plays and those ended up being the difference in the game.”

Hull and junior running back Cam Porter have contributed to the rushing scheme, gaining 172 out of the 206 total rushing yards versus the Buckeyes. Hull said there is full trust in Sullivan’s lead, allowing him and Porter to give it their all on the plays. Considering the successful production for the first half of last week’s game, the Cats could look to replicate this tactic Saturday. 

While the season has been far from the outcome NU expected or hoped for, the benefits of this year has been the building of the team, helmets on or off. Despite it being early to call this season a quits, the Cats are hoping their strength in brotherhood can fuel the potential to be successful next year. 

Still a young team, the commitment to creating and strengthening this bond is something that will make the program more of a threat for future seasons. The Cats are hoping this bond can help spark a victory over Minnesota this weekend. 

“I would call (the team) a brotherhood,” Hull said. “I think the adversity we have gone through has made us tighter.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @sswann301