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Northwestern Football Unit Breakdowns: Superback

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

Projected Starter

Tim Riley, Junior

With the graduation of Drake Dunsmore, NU’s second-leading receiver in 2011, the cupboard is very bare at superback for the Wildcats. In addition to Dunsmore’s departure, John Plasencia is no longer with the team and Jack Konopka switched to offensive line.

That leaves Riley, who has contributed little on the field during his time at NU so far and is best known for catching a touchdown pass in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas this year. He was a linebacker until making the switch to fullback last year. Now, he’s a superback, and while he’s very untested, he got a lot of reps in spring practice.


Mark Szott, Redshirt Freshman

Szott redshirted during his freshman year, so he doesn’t have any college experience, but he has a big frame at 6-4, 240 pounds and has the potential to fight for the starting job.

He was a three-star recruit in high school and has a real possibility of seeing the field in 2012.

Jack Schwaba or Dan Vitale, True Freshmen

We’re going out on a limb here and projecting a true freshman, either Jack Schwaba or Dan Vitale, to fight for the second-string superback job to start the 2012 season. In fact, both are big, talented players who could eventually earn the starting role.

There isn’t much experience returning behind Riley, so either Schwaba or Vitale will practically have as much experience as anyone else at the position. With their talent and potential, expect one — or both — of them to see the field in 2012 and possibly become a starter by the end of the season.

The Others

Brian Smith, Junior — Smith came to NU as an offensive lineman, but switched to superback before the 2011 season. At 6-7, 285 pounds he might be too big to be an effective superback.

Evan Watkins, Junior — Watkins switched to superback from quarterback during bowl practices last year, largely in hopes of finding a way to see the field. He got buried on the depth chart behind Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian at quarterback and became a fan favorite in the parody #WatkinsTall campaign because he was used to hold up play cards. He likely won’t play a major role in the NU offense again this year.

The Recruits (All star ratings according to Scout)

Jack Schwaba. 6-4, 225 — three-star, Upper St. Clair (PA)

Dan Vitale. 6-2, 220 — two-star, Wheaton (IL)


Superback is the biggest question mark on the NU offense, as there is almost no experience returning. The likely starter has very little game experience on offense and the likely backups — at least to start — are either true or redshirt freshmen.


The “concerns” section basically sums up the prognosis, as it will be very difficult for this year’s superbacks to come close to matching Dunsmore’s production last year. There is definitely talent — Schwaba, Vitale and Szott all look promising — but there might be too much inexperience for NU’s superbacks to be effective in 2012.