For the first time in two years, Northwestern has one quarterback.
But while the switch from the two-QB system has yielded a different offensive style for the Wildcats, it’s yielded something perhaps even more important. It’s yielded a leader.
Trevor Siemian will be the first to admit his leadership skills needed some perfecting. And the departure of Kain Colter — in more ways than one — have allowed Siemian to do just that.
“Going back, I hadn’t been a real vocal guy in front of the team as much as I’d like to be,” Siemian said Monday at Big Ten Media Day. “And one of the things I tried to do in the spring was be a more dynamic leader. You’ve got to connect with people in different ways, everybody’s different. So being able to say something in front of the group assertively when I need to, hold people accountable. I think I’m getting better, I’m not there yet. But I’m getting better.”
[MORE BIG TEN: Kain Colter working to make Vikings roster as wide receiver]
Colter and Siemian formed a much-discussed quarterbacking tandem the past two seasons in Evanston. There was great success in 2012, as the Wildcats finished their first double-digit-win season for the first time since the mid-90s trip to the Rose Bowl. Last season, with both guys banged up and the team struggling to close games, the system didn’t work very well. Colter was a senior, and his departure was inevitable. Siemian was going to have to take over sooner or later.
“I think he and Kain were a good yin and yang from a standpoint of their personalities,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “And maybe to a fault, Trevor didn’t exhibit his leadership side, and I think he’s learned from that. This is his football team.”
But it was Colter who provided the spark for Siemian to step up in a much more unexpected way. Colter spearheaded this offseason’s unionization effort at Northwestern, and through a process that the entire team said brought them closer together, it was Siemian who stepped up and flexed that leadership ability.
“I just think that there was an opportunity for some guys to step up vocally, and he would be one of those guys,” Fitzgerald said. “For some teams, you don’t get that until training camp. Some you don’t get until you hit your first bit of adversity. We faced a situation out of our control, per say, earlier than anybody else, and I think Trevor’s a great example of a guy that really stepped up and imposed who he is, what’s important to him and his leadership style. I think it’s really brought our team together and been a large positive.”
[MORE BIG TEN: B1G 40: Can Northwestern return to 10-win glory days?]
“I think himself — and all the leaders of the team — we really just kind of tried to stress to guys what this meant and try to get facts,” Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell said. “Because you were hearing all these things from the media, make sure guys weren’t getting their ideas and their facts through the media because you heard a lot of mixed messages.”
This season will likely be defined by Siemian’s capabilities on the field, either as a leader or as a quarterback or both. The Wildcats return a ton of players on both sides of the ball, and though last year finished with only five wins, just a handful of plays could have turned it into a second straight 10-win season. Siemian — or at least his expanded role — is one of the team’s biggest and only differences heading into 2014.
But count his coach as one guy who thinks he can do it. And it’s mental fortitude rather than physical attributes that have led to that feeling.
“The one thing with which I was really proud of Trevor was how he finished last year. He battled through physical adversity. He goes on the field through that physical adversity and probably plays as unsuccessful football as he had in his career, maybe in his life. And all of a sudden, here come the vultures and here come the arrows of negativity right at his head. And I thought he handled it really well,” Fitzgerald said. “And he fought through it, and he didn’t listen to it. And the way that he finished and the way that he played through earlier parts of his career when he was healthy are a great indication of who he is, and I’m going to let his play speak for itself.
“And hopefully it unfolds to where maybe not in the preseason he’s being talked about as an All-Big Ten-level player, but it doesn’t matter where you started, it matters how you finish. And I fully expect for him to be a part of that conversation when we get to the end of the year.”