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Big Ten Media Days 2016: Pat Fitzgerald Press Conference Notes

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NCAA Football: Big Ten Media Day David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald was the first head coach to speak Monday at Big Ten Media days, here’s what he had to say.

-Fitzgerald started out with "a heavy heart, and great sadness," by sending his condolences to both the Nebraska and Michigan St. football families following the passing of Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler. He then mentioned late former Northwestern head coach Dennis Green as well, calling him a "trailblazer."

-He then moved on to a recap of last season, and was obviously pretty happy about it. "An exciting year for us, to get to double digit wins again, two of the last four years to do that, exciting on the field. Obviously some unfinished business in three of our contests. Still very proud and very pleased about the accomplishments that our young men had a year ago."

-Of course, Fitzgerald made sure to mention the team’s success in the classroom as well, saying, "It was our best academic year," citing the team’s 3.15 GPA. He was very proud to have one of their best seasons on the field while also having a great season off the field as well.

-Heading into 2016, Fitzgerald is very excited about the physical strength of the team: "This may be the strongest team we’ve ever had. We’re over 400 personal records over the course of the summer." He also mentioned that both Justin Jackson and Matthew Harris hit new personal records last night.

-Fitzgerald then emphasized how important team strength is this year, pointing to how it played into all of their losses last year. "In our three losses a year ago we got dominated at the line of scrimmage."

-He ended his statement by welcoming Chris Ash, DJ Durkin and Tracy Claeys to the Big Ten, but forgot to mention Lovie Smith. He then tweeted out an apology after the press conference.

-On Success in close games: "It was really the hallmark to our success a year ago. I think it's in the way we prepare. We try to put our guys in adverse situations during practice. We've been in a lot of close games. I can't tell you why. And our guys are confident in that situation." Fitzgerald also said that he’d prefer to not be in those types of games, but it probably has something to do with how they play the game.

-On the Anthony Walker marketing campaign:  "I think it's great for Anthony. He's earned that to be a returning all-American, the same way that Danny was, back a few years ago. The only way we can do it is if a young person is humble enough to understand what we're trying to do."

-He also said that Walker’s teammates were the one’s who came up with the Franchise nickname and that "They're totally making fun of him," for it.

-On Justin Jackson: "When I look at J.J. he reminds me a lot -- different styles a little bit, but just in my time at Northwestern, some of our backs. Similar to Tyrell Sutton with his vision. And Noah Herron, how Noah was a big back, but didn't seem he really got hit that hard. Was always able to slip tackles. And maybe Jason Wright with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield."

-Fitzgerald then addressed the tough schedule in the month of October: "If you look at throughout my time it's been a month that's been a challenge for us. It's typically very good opponents. We do start school. But that's an excuse." He said that if you want to have your name talked about in November, you have to be good in October.

-On blowouts last year, Fitzgerald first thanked the reporter for reminding him about it and then broke down each game individually. He said that Michigan just outplayed them and you just have to tip your cap. He thought Northwestern hang with Iowa in the first half, but just gave up too many explosive plays in the second half. Finally, he called Tennessee "a pretty good team" and tipped his cap to them as well.

-On how Northwestern deals with losses on defense Fitzgerald said that they have some guys, Keith Watkins, Kyle Quiero, Xavier Washington, Ifeadi Odenigbo, who are ready to step into important roles. He’s also excited about the team’s depth: "Then hopefully you've got four more to back those two guys up and we feel pretty good about that group. So we've just got to continue to develop depth. We've got to continue to develop our young talent."

-Fitzgerald on Anthony Walker being one of the best linebackers in the nation: "He's a returning all-American. He's going to have a bull's eye on his chest. He'll see more people playing below his waist than maybe ever in his career. People will be playing cut block and things of that nature to slow him down, and he's got a lot of things to improve on."

-On the wide receiver battle, the first two guys Fitzgerald mentioned were Austin Carr and Andrew Scanlan. He said Scanlan has "done a terrific job this summer." He then mentioned Marcus McShepard and Solomon Vault saying that both of them have grown immensely. Finally, the only other receiver he mentioned by name was Flynn Nagel, who he, "was really impressed with, before he got hurt last year."

-Finally, Fitzgerald ended with a great line about the team’s depth: "We're back to having competitive depth out there, which as a coach that's what you want. If you're not getting the job done you get to meet my friend, the motivator called the bench. He's awesome. He's the best motivator in the world."