by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
For the last three years, Northwestern featured a superback who needed no introduction. Three-year starter Drake Dunsmore was one of NU’s most decorated receivers and made superback one of the most consistent positions for the Wildcats during his time in Evanston.
This year, introductions will be needed, no matter who ends up lined up at superback to start the season against Syracuse in a few weeks.
“We stack up with a lot of names,” Fitzgerald said.
A lot of names, indeed.
The most experienced returning player is junior Tim Riley, who switched to superback from linebacker in bowl practices last year and had a two-yard touchdown catch in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Then there’s Evan Watkins, a quarterback-turned-superback who also switched positions at the beginning of fall camp. Like Riley, redshirt freshman Doug Diedrick switched to superback from linebacker before the start of fall camp, and then there’s redshirt freshman Mark Szott, the one returning superback who wasn’t moved to that position after the regular season.
In addition to those four guys, NU also brings in two freshmen, three stars recuirts Jack Schwaba and Dan Vitale.
That’s a lot of names, but it’s also a lot of inexperience.
“This is kind of like my freshman camp,” Riley said. “Evan Watkins just moved from quarterback, so it’s like his freshman camp. And then we have two freshmen. And then Doug Diedrick also moved from linebacker, so it’s like his freshman camp, and Mark Szott was hurt in the spring, so we’re basically kind of all freshmen.”
With very little experience returning and so many “freshmen” on the roster, the superback position battle is far from decided. It’s a spot where everyone, regardless of class, has a chance to earn playing time.
“There’s competition, but competition at any position is great for the team,” Schwaba said. “It brings out the competitive edge and the best of you. So yeah, there’s competition at superback. It’s going well so far.”
While there is competition among everyone, the unique ambiguity of the superback position makes it so everyone isn’t battling for the same snaps. That has been nice for Schwaba, who is friends with fellow freshman Dan Vitale.
“We’re roommates for the school year and we’re rooming right here at Kenosha,” Schwaba said. “He’s a great guy. We’re not really battling for snaps or anything like that. Superback branches off into two different positions — H-back and traditional tight end. He’s an H-back, I’m more of an additional tight end, so we don’t really conflict at all.”
Even players Schwaba is directly battling for playing time have taken him under their wing, including Evan Watkins, who is still learning the position himself but has experience in college football and can pass that on to the freshmen.
“He’s a Y, a traditional tight end like I am, so we’re in drills together a lot, we’re on the sidelines together a lot, we talk about plays and all that,” Schwaba said. “When you have veteran leadership at any position, it doesn’t matter where there experience was, it helps out a lot.”
While Schwaba is in the mix for serious playing time and has a chance to even earn a starting spot by week one, he is still adjusting to the college game and working on a steep learning curve. However, thanks to help from the veterans and gaining his own experience — albeit very little — he’s starting to get the hang of things.
“I’m not going to lie, at the beginning I was a little overwhelmed,” he said, “but I’m starting to get used to the pace now. I’m starting to know my role a little bit more and I think as time goes on you grow used to it.”