Since Pat Fitzgerald took over the Northwestern program in 2006, the Wildcats have seen a change in their own mentality, the way opponents see them and the tallies in the win column. Fitzgerald has led his group to 50 wins in those seven seasons -- including a 10-3 mark and a Gator Bowl win in 2013 -- and said he's energized and excited about the direction Northwestern football is trending.
The Wildcats opened up spring practice this afternoon, and Fitzgerald spoke on the state of the program which has seen four winning seasons the past five years and last year's bowl win, the first under Fitzgerald.
"Our brand is probably as strong as it's ever been. When you graduate 100 percent of your players and then you're able to show--using this whole experience to prepare for life--we had all our guys gainfully employed within six months of graduation, whether the NFL or a full-time job," Fitzgerald said. "That's what this whole experience is about, and a lot of times I think kids are missing that."
Like every team in the country will go through, the Wildcats are looking to see new players step up in the wake of departed upperclassmen. And while in years' past seeing a group of productive seniors leave the team may have been an issue, the Wildcats are confident in a slew of returning skill players -- including quarterbacks Kain Colter, Trevor Siemian, running back Venric Mark and wide receivers Christian Jones, Tony Jones and Christian Lawrence. A young offensive line, however, may be a different story.
"I think it helps we have a lot of our skill guys back but bringing this young offensive line along, I think, is gonna be the biggest thing, getting them playing with us," Siemian siad. "So i think bringing those guys along and getting them used to the tempo and how we run things on the offense is the biggest thing."
A talented recruiting class, which includes former Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti, should help the Wildcats when they finally arrive on campus.
"You can't replace [seniors]. You've just got to have guys step up and play the best they can. It was the same way a year ago. We believe we've recruited very well up there, and while we don't have great depth in the spring, when those guys come back and we add the group we just recruited, we're gonna have the best stuff we've had so we can go compete."