We asked you to send in questions for former Northwestern linebacker Nate Williams about his playing days, the inner-workings of the program, college football in general and really everything else. Here are his answers.
I had a great response of questions in the first installment of "Ask Nate Williams Anything" for the opening day of Northwestern football preseason camp.
I look forward to another season writing here for the guys at InsideNU as they successfully made their migration over to the good ole folks over at SBNation. I plan on doing a a number of these columns leading up to the first game where I will once again be giving my weekly post game analysis.
Feel free to leave more questions on the comment thread or tweet me any questions at @BigEasyCat44 so we can continue the dialogue further in anticipation for the season opener against Cal.
What was your favorite place to play in the Big Ten? Also, which team did you consider your biggest rival to be? For the fans, it seems to be Illinois, but for Fitz/the players, it seems to be Iowa. Is that right? - Kevin Trahan
Biggest Rival: Iowa
Favorite Place: Iowa.
They have great locker rooms ... Say what you will about the color pink, but they are almost as nice as Minnesota's new stadium. The stadium is set up with their fans breathing down your neck with how narrow their sidelines are. Their fans are great — crazy, but great. I never thought I'd see the day where I would get flicked off by someones Gam Gam.
Them being our rival has nothing to do with us not liking their team or their coach, as everyone knows Ferentz runs a good clean program all things considered. Fitz certainly gets more fired up during Iowa week but It really has more to do with their fans from a players perspective. I think beating people who show that much passion for their team is so much more rewarding. I feel like its almost like they have some syndrome where they are older brother who maybe is the same size as their little brother and when little brother beats up on them they run and cry to mom about it.
I do wish I got the chance to play at Memorial Stadium in Nebraska.
Are there any particular sport cliches used often in college football that are way off base? Are there any that are surprisingly accurate? - NUHighlights
I think the most laughable cliche type now a days, are in reference to "work," such as the term "business trip" in reference to going to an away game. Or the "let's go to work" in reference to practicing. These kind of cliches, I firmly believe, are very accurate from a player/coach perspective, yet everyone who is staunchly opposed to any kind of "pay for play" model or change in the system seems very out of touch with reality in the recent months.
One of the arguments against sharing revenue with some football players is that it would create inequality and resentment in the locker room. Do you agree with that? To what extent does that already exist between scholarship and walk-on players? - NUHighlights
I would agree with that. I don't think thats the best solution. I think the only way we can make college football still feel "amateur" while paying players in whatever form, is if we were to have a flat rate of payment across the board, or full cost of tuition with a trust set up for after graduation. If we start allowing players to receive payment for NIL (name, image and likeness) then that may be one way for the more marquee players to make up for that. At the end of the day, I don't think you can pay kids — sometimes as young as 17-year-olds — different amounts and expect them to spend, interact and behave in a responsible manner.
We never had any issues I can think of between scholarship and walk-ons, but not every school is like NU.
How important were facilities to you as a recruit and as a seasoned veteran? If conferences were to make an effort to de emphasize facilities for financial purposes, is it possible for a school to communicate to its recruits that they really don't make a big difference once they get used to them or are we stuck in this arms race forever? On a more serious note, are 17-year-olds capable of understanding the health risks involved with football? Are 22-year-olds? - NUHighlights
The arms race will continue as long as college football programs are able to "wow" recruits, and as long as they aren't allowed to offer anything besides a full scholarship. Frankly, I think there should be a cap on spending for daily use facilities among the Power 5 conferences. It just goes to show you what's really most important to these football factories. It sets the wrong precedent so that even schools like a Northwestern or a Stanford, who typically do things the right way and for the right reasons, now have to "keep up with the Joneses".
I personally was never wowed by facilities, and while I wasn't really recruited by any football factory programs, I did make some junior days and camps around the nation and saw some pretty impressive facilities. Overall there were much more important factors in my decision, but I also went to a private school and was raised to value something more than the glamour of a football facility or the number of jersey combinations a team has (although I do regret going to an Adidas school).
That being said, I don't think NU's new facilities are being built for the wrong reasons. The football players needed it. The rest of the athletes needed it too, and from what I hear the students will be benefitting from it, as well. Which is great, because aside from the pool, tennis and basketball courts, Norris was an abomination to university recreation centers. Overall it seems like it will make everyone's life a little bit easier and nicer. I'm sure sharing facilities among 'X' number of athletic teams can be very difficult and frustrating for those in charge.
In the big picture, if NFL teams don't need to have arms races then why should college football? The answer is because they can offer more than just a spot of the team and a scholarship. When CFB is able to offer more, maybe some of the flashy things become less attractive. Or all 50+ schools will start to spend upwards of a billion dollars and the law of diminishing returns sets it.
Ultimately what we need is high school recruits, their parents and coaches to be more educated (regarding head injuries), and it is slowly progressing more toward that. Most 17-year-olds have little-to-no concern about health; they want to get out of high school and start playing with the big boys. They want to chase their dreams and their dream in their head never mentions anything about early onset dementia or knee replacements at age 40. When I was that age, these new concerns weren't really heard of either, and that was only 10 years ago. So it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds in the coming years with political figures and the media coming down hard on college football.
What does Fitz actually do? I guess I always assumed that the coordinators made almost all the important decisions, like play calling, substitutions in games, determining the depth chart, etc. I imagine they also do most of the teaching in practice (along with the coaches of the individual units). So...what's Fitz's role outside of PR/recruiting/fiery locker room speeches? Do McCall and Hankwitz do all the game planning and teaching and Fitz just signs off on it? Or is he more hands-on with these things? - Make Some Noyes
I wish I could give you a direct answer, but what I do know is that he is a very big-time players coach and will go above and beyond for you to learn. For example, I've had one-on-one film sessions with him and Q. Davie a number of times. He's also very involved in coaching techniques for tackling and shedding blocks during practices. His door is always open if you want to get better. Obviously his day-to-day job in the office is much more on a macro level than anything else. He oversees everything and everyone.
I think some likely want to know more so what he is responsible for on game days, and rightfully so, since we saw a lot of complaints of occasions of possible mismanagement of talent and a lot of conservative decisions. Whether they were right or wrong, hindsight is always 20/20, but I can at least tell you that yes, he does likely have the ability to override a coordinator's play call, substitution, depth and play type. But that does not mean that it happens often. I would imagine it happens more often on offense when NU controls the pace of the game. Whereas on defense, calls need to be a lot faster so we can make adjustments.
I've always wondered about this: How much do players pay attention to the chatter on NU blogs/message boards? How much do you hate us when we're wrong about something? - TDozer
Probably a lot more than you think. I used to look at the message boards every now and then just to get a fans perspective. It's funny sometimes how you may grade out poorly with your position coach after film study yet the message board gurus thought you played great and vice-versa. Some things can be pretty insightful, while a lot of it is jeering, grumbling, and ranting amongst each other. As long as you're able to realize that from a players perspective, it likely doesn't affect you.
Going into a game and based on the previous week's practices, did you have a sense for what the outcome would be? Alternatively, were there any wins where you were genuinely surprised that NU won? - TDozer
Good practices certainly builds confidence. The only game where I really remember practices being a tell-tale sign was after we lost to Illinois at Wrigley and later faced Wisconsin. I recall a lot of guys were "dragging ass" and it showed on game day as we got pummeled by Wisco. That was a utterly miserable and embarrassing game to be a part of after the first quarter.
You do not ever really get surprised by winning. I think there are some games you are more excited when you actually do win. For example, the Wisconsin game in 2009, or the Iowa 2009 & 2010 (although 2010 had an unfortunate outcome with Persa's injury). Overall, Fitz and Co. have always done a great job instilling the expectation to win so really there isn't ever much surprise; more excitement.
When does football "stop"? By that I mean, when does an athlete get to just enjoy being a student? How easy or hard is it to have non-football friends/relationships during the season? TDozer
Short answer: they don't. There are certainly times where we can enjoy being a student, but usually within a few days you will be brought back to the reality of having football obligations. Going to watch the other athletes at their sports was always fun, and I certainly wish I would have further cultivated more of my non-football relationships. Freshman and sophomore year you're really able to by being in the dorms, but once you move off campus with the other football guys, a lot of those relationships dissolve, unfortunately. It would be great to see coaches encourage players to have a few guys who aren't football players live in the same place.
How aware of the fans/students/band is the team throughout the game? More importantly, what's your favorite section of NUMB? (Hint: There is a right answer to this.) TDozer
Very aware. You know the general area of where your family is sitting, you know where the band is, where the students are and you know when the east side has more visiting fans on it. For the most part guys like to know the fans and band are into it, but I've also seen some get a little nerve-wrecked when visiting the big stadiums.
Living in New Orleans for two years now, I've become fond of all the brass bands, as well as the mid-high school marching bands during Mardi Gras, so the horn section and percussionm I always enjoy. Come down for a local Mardi Gras parade and you'll see a lot of high school bands that will knock the socks off a lot of B1G bands.
What are you guys told to be careful of saying to the media? Without naming names, are there any outlets/writers they told you to be particularly weary of? - Kevin Trahan
Nothing really. We take an hour long media training that teaches us some little tricks to look good on camera but I dont think that's quite the answer you're looking for. I can't ever remember being told NOT to talk about a certain topic, or to a certain person. They always have to get cleared through the media dept. and I've even talked to news outlets from other B1G markets (through the media dept, of course). Maybe its changed since I left and maybe it goes on now that there is more attention on some pretty sensitive topics. Overall, I don't ever recall being asked to shy away from anything from our media team.
Are they for losers? Yes, they can be. It's more or less Fitz just saying "if you focus too much about stats you're not likely focusing enough on the overall outcome and what matters most." Stats can certainly be a big barometer for success, but an offense/defense can still have stellar stat lines, and the overall outcome can still be a loss. If you've been in the locker room, then you'll see every game has a set of goals for offense and defense that are all objective and stat-based. Five or so, if I remember correctly for defense: Third down conversion percentage, rusher over 100 yards, etc. etc. We certainly were never living or dying on them, but they certainly let us know where our shortcomings were and where we could do better defensively.