(Author's note: I've decided my posts are too overwhelmingly long, after my QB thing clocked in at 1700 words. They say Medill is supposed to teach you to be concise, but then again, they also said it would teach me not to mercilessly mock sub-par kickers, and it took me a preposterously short amount of time to do that, so, shows you what they know.
Unfortunately for fans of conciseness, I've already written this 1600 word piece on running backs - enjoy it, but henceforth, there will be more, shorter posts.
Also, I hope you enjoyed the irony of these hundred or so words about how long my posts are.)
Days Left Till Kickoff: 66
Who did it last year?: Tyrell Sutton won't be a Wildcat next year, and that's probably the definitive difference between this year's team and last. It probably seems weird that I open up these preview posts with a recap of last year, but, first off, crank up the cliché-o-meter, but, you have to know where you've been to know where you're going. But in some cases, it serves a much deeper purpose: I need to eulogize these people who we're losing who have been major figures in Wildcat football history.
With Tyrell, we're losing our superstar.
Tyrell has been our running back for four years, which is just about as long as you can be a college starting running back. He was dominant as a true freshman, dominant as a sophomore, dominant when healthy in his final two seasons. Flashy, yet workmanlike, Sutton's story of how a record-setting high school running back, managed to slip under the radar of major college dynasties due to his size and ended up killing them for it for four straight years in Evanston is pretty much the embodiment of Northwestern football. (Apparently, it's such a touching story, it requires a soundtrack of Creed.) Long story short, Sutton was the guy you associated with our football program, and he had a truly amazing career.
Let us remember Tyrell with this poorly edited seven-minute highlight reel, which, despite the sub-par editing, has truly tremendous musical choices. (Gladiator and Godzilla, yo.) (Also, everybody who thought I was never going to use my "P Diddy" label again was dead wrong.)
My favorites: the cutback against SIU, the two where he just merks Northeastern linebackers, and the 2nd-and-21 run for 17 yards against Mizzou that prompted him to jump up and start celebrating.
I will always remember Tyrell, for his great running talent, the thousands of unverifiable rumors people told about him - another thing which made him a true college superstar was that he was probably the one dude on the football team able to inspire folkloric tales of his off-the-field exploits that may or may not have been true - and for his impressive ability to turn in his test in my Geography class a good 15-20 minutes before anybody else, then walk out of class remarking about how poorly he did on it. (By the time I'm a spring quarter senior, I'll probably be pretty good at this too, although, I won't be moonlighting as a Green Bay Packer while doing it. I'll just be being lazy.) And of course, for his memorable return from injury in the Alamo Bowl, where pretty much every senior played their hearts out and had ridiculously great games, yet we managed not to win, resulting in a preposterously tragic moment for Northwestern sports.
We also lose Omar Conteh. He was serviceable when called upon, busting out some 100 yard games when Tyrell was out, and, to be honest, I'm not sure why Omar never redshirted. He was never going to start with Sutton there, and it would've made more sense for the program to have him around next year. His career ended badly - after being thrust into the spotlight, he was second fiddle to Mike Kafka in the Minnesota game and suffered an injury in practice that ended his career before three games in which he truly could've helped the team.
Stephen Simmons started the last three games, and was not Tyrell Sutton. His total yards and yards-per-carry increased in each of the games he started, so that was a good sign. People were down on him as a back, but, remember, we beat Michigan and Illinois with him as our back, so, chill out.
Who's got next: Tough to say, for sure. Stephen Simmons obviously played last year, but in spring ball, he was just part of a three-headed running back monster. Not to keep jacking things I wrote for the Daily and giving shameless plugs, but, as relevant articles go, this one is a pretty relevant one.
The guys say it best themselves: each of them has different skills, and they sort of like going at it by committee. Steph actually endorses that approach in the article, saying he didn't really like being the lone guy last year.
Pardon the esotericness, but all I could think about when Steph gave me the quote I used first in the article was that interview you hear at the album version of the end of Protect Your Neck, where Method Man and Ghostface describe the various things each member of the Wu-Tang Clan does, why they got their name, and how they contributed: Stephen Simmons, Jeravin Matthews, and Alex Daniel each have different running styles. Stephen brings experience, and seems like a more patient runner, Jeravin is overwhelmingly speedy and, since he played wide out last year, might be able to replace some of Tyrell Sutton's recieving skills out of the backfield, and Daniel is the more powerful of the three. If they were a boy band, Simmons would be The Shy One, Jeravin would be The Young, Brash One, and Daniel would be The Moderately Introverted Guy With Unnecessary Tribal Tattoos. (Even if none of those descriptions fit their personalities whatsoever.)
Earlier in the spring, I had spoken with RB's coach Matt Macpherson, or, as I quickly found every single person involved with the team calls him, Mack. I thought he was feeding me coachspeak when he told me that yes, although they had made Jeravin the starter the year before, everything was new coming into training camp, and that everybody was getting equal reps, and everybody had a shot to start, and that they hadn't named a starter yet. Turned out this was less coachspeak and more of an actual representation of the way everything was going: we might be looking at a committee approach come September, and that's not necessarily the worst thing, because all three running backs looked good in spring.
So I'm a proponent of the RB-by-committee setup, but, who knows. We could get all Simmons or all three, all we know is that at the least Simmons will be a major factor in the running attack.
Is this an improvement on last year?: No. It's much worse. But like I said earlier, we're losing a superstar, and, there's nothing you can do about it other than be glad you had him in the first place. Remember: NU won two of three games with Stephen Simmons as our premier back last year. Now, he has experience, and he has Jeravin Matthews and Alex Daniel there as either his backups or as his running mates. (In a literal term, not as in a vice presidential one.) Also, the way we used Simmons was extraordinarily conservative. Most of the time, he was running delayed draws back up the middle, and most of the time - with one touchdown against Michigan as the exception - he was getting stopped three yards or less past the line of scrimmage because the defense was expecting it. So, to elaborate on my one word answer at the beginning of this paragraph, it's worse than the Tyrell/Omar setup, but probably will be better than Simmons was in his few games last year. When Simmons played last year, it was almost like NU was trying to cut losses by giving Simmons low-risk, low-reward plays, this year, we're going to try and win with him and whoever he brings along for the ride, which could be both or neither of the other two guys at this point.
Who else we got? In addition to Simmons, Matthews, and Daniel, there are four running backs who don't look to factor in much - then again, we said that last year about Stephen Simmons, who, at the time, was a third stringer, so you never know. At least look for these guys to get some late game reps, especially if we do plan on using all three of the aforementioned backs in steady RB rotation.
Scott Concannon is either a redshirt sophomore who has been playing special teams, and of whom I know nothing. His nusports.com profile shows that he had a high school game with 320 yards rushing on 8 carries, including 3 90+ yard scores, presumably because the opposing kicker was kickoff specialist Mike Vanderjagt or because their kick returner averaged -23 yards per return.
Jacob Schmidt is a walkon, also a redshirt sophomore. He's the only one of these four to have carried the ball in a game, and managed to block a punt AND recover it against SIU, which is pretty impressive, although I seem to remember it bouncing off a few other guys before he got to it because it was so rainy. He is most famous in my mind for making special teams tackles, and promptly being confused with linebacker Stone Pinckney by announcers because they wore the same number, which is funny not because Pinkney was redshirting last year, but because the two look sort of different. He says a song that describes him is "Go Getta" by Young Jeezy, probably because of Jeezy's verse about special teams tackles.
We feature two incoming running backs who will probably redshirt, but, then again, Sutton and Conteh came in the same year and they didn't, so you never know.
Mike Trumpy was ranked the number one running back in Illinois last year, so he was probably a good land. He was also a track star in high school, as opposed to Schmidt, who is best described by a song by a guy who also released a song called "Trap Star". Subtle difference.
Arby "RB" Fields has a great name for a running back, and, like Evan Watkins in the last post, will have some big shoes to fill by being assigned the number 19. He will join Quentin Williams as a football player/outfielder for the baseball team, as he will play centerfield for the Cats.
So there we go. 1500 words later, you know about our running backs. We'll do wide recievers on wednesday - different type of post tomorrow.
And yes - I do plan on having a label for every athlete I mention. What now?