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Northwestern RB Stephen Buckley's role is a mystery

EVANSTON, Ill. -- There is only one thing we know about how redshirt freshman running back Stephen Buckley will be used in Northwestern’s offense this season: that we don't know. But he will be used.

In what ways, exactly? That’s hard to say. In fact, not even Buckley himself is quite sure how offensive coordinator Mick McCall plans to deploy him.

“I honestly do not know what my role will be,” Buckley said Tuesday night after practice, an air of secrecy vaguely detectable in his responses -- almost as if he doesn't want anyone to know how he fits into McCall's offensive designs. Buckley may not know exactly how he’s going to be used, but he did concede that he doesn’t believe he’ll be asked to run the ball between-the-tackles all that much. The Wildcats have other players – seniors Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy, junior Treyvon Green and redshirt freshman Malin Jones – willing and able to take on those carries.

Catching passes will be part of what Buckley does this season. “I expect to catch balls,” he said. He may even contribute on kick returns, something Buckley has discussed with coaches. “It’s definitely something I’m interested in.”

On Tuesday, Buckley shined against the second-team defense. Whether receiving a pitch in stride and breaking a big run to the outside, catching a short pass or running back a kick, Buckley was making plays. Towards the end of practice, Buckley lined up in the backfield, shadowed Colter’s cautious approach to the left, prepared for the pitch he knew was coming, secured the ball, darted between two linebackers and sprinted for a big gain.

Learning Northwestern’s option formations has never been difficult for Buckley, having quarterbacked the veer offense, which incorporates option principles, at North Forney (Tex.) high school. Now Buckley, after plenty of reps in the spring and summer, can picking up Colter’s reads more effectively, and know in advance whether he will pitch or “keep.”

“I feel like I’ve been able to process Kain’s reads as well as my own,” he said. “That helps me a lot. I feel like I’ve been able to dive further into the offense.”

His teammates have noticed.

While being interviewed under the Lakeside Field lights after practice, Buckley smiled as teammates (and safety two-deep inclusions) Traveon Henry and Terrance Brown screamed congratulatory praise into the microphone near his chin. Impressed with Buckley’s practice performance, they ran off, but Buckley was completely nonplussed.

He seemed unwilling to accept the idea he had a “good” practice, and evinced a truly humble mindset when describing his main goal for this season.

“Honestly, I just want to get on the field,” he said.