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Counting Down Northwestern’s roster: 19 to 10

Some big names in this group.

NCAA Football: Music Bowl-Kentucky vs Northwestern
The biggest question this offseason for Northwestern Football is whether Clayton Thorson’s knee is healthy.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve gone through Northwestern’s most important players, positional previews, and opponent breakdowns. Now, as the season creeps closer, we’re counting down the roster, 99 to 1. We’ll provide biographical information, stats, and an outlook for each player’s role headed into 2018.

Our series now moves to 19-10, where we meet some key members of the Wildcats’ Offensive and Special Teams units.

19 Riley Lees

WR | 6-foot, 206 lbs. | Sophomore | Libertyville, Ill.

Likely Role in 2018: Backup kickoff returner, punt returner and Y-receiver

Lees functioned as the primary kickoff and punt returner for the Wildcats last season but the return of Solomon Vault may result in less playing time as a kick returner. Lees was former top-20 recruit in the state of Illinois, and averaged 13.1 yards per catch last season as a first year player. He emerged as a good backup last season, and will look to build on his 18 receptions and two touchdowns in the upcoming season.

Career Stats: 18 receptions, 235 yards, two touchdowns

18 Clayton Thorson

QB | 6-foot-4, 226 lbs. | Senior | Wheaton, Ill.

Likely Role in 2018: Starting Quarterback

After tearing his ACL in the Music City Bowl, the biggest question for Northwestern this season is whether Clayton Thorson is healthy. He has brought a consistency at quarterback which, combined with a more experienced offensive line and receiving corps this season, should result in a more potent passing attack.

Career Stats: 39 starts, 7548 passing yards, 62 Touchdowns

18 Cameron Ruiz

DB | 5-foot-11, 180 lbs. | Redshirt Freshman | Lake Villa, Ill.

Likely Role in 2018: Competing for time at cornerback

Ruiz redshirted his first year in Evanston. As a high school recruit, he was rated as the best Cornerback in Illinois and a three-star prospect by Scout. Northwestern was plagued by injury at Cornerback last season, with four cornerbacks missing large portions or the whole season. The defensive backfield appears healthy and deeper coming into the season, so even with some inexperience, it may be difficult for Ruiz to get significant playing time this season.

Career Stats: None

17 Daniel Kubiuk

P | 6-foot-1, 213 lbs. | Senior | Barrington, Ill.

Likely Role in 2018: Backup Punter

A three-year starter at quarterback in high school, Daniel Kubiuk initially walked on to the Wildcats at that position. After redshirting his first year, he served as a reserve quarterback for two seasons before becoming the Wildcats’ backup punter during training camp in 2017. After the transfer of Punter Jake Collins from Western Kentucky, Kubiuk is expected to remain the backup Punter this season.

Career Stats: 4 appearances

17 Jalen Brown

WR | 6-foot-1, 213 lbs. | Senior | Phoenix, Ari.

Likely Role in 2018: Starting Z-receiver

As a recruit, Jalen Brown was rated the No. 12 overall wide receiver in the country. He transferred to Northwestern in 2017 after three years at the University of Oregon. He began last season as a starting wide receiver for the Wildcats but suffered a season-ending injury in the third game of the season. This season he looks to be a starting wide receiver who can use his speed to stretch the field and open up the downfield passing game.

Career Stats: Three receptions, 33 yards with Northwestern

16 Berkeley Holman

WR | 5-foot-11, 191 lbs. | Redshirt freshman | Irvine, Calif.

Likely Role in 2018: Competing for time at wide receiver.

The son of a former NFL wide receiver, Berkeley Holman came to Northwestern as a top-20 wide receiver and three-star recruit out of California. He redshirted as a freshman last season and will look to try to break into the deep receiver rotation this season.

Career Stats: None

15 Hunter Johnson

QB | 6-foot-2, 208 lbs. | Sophomore | Brownsburg, Ind.

Likely Role in 2018: Ineligible as a result of transfer

A five-star recruit in the class of 2017, Hunter Johnson committed to Clemson University where he played in seven games at quarterback last season as a true freshman. A transfer with three years of eligibility remaining, he is ineligible to play this season, but should be the successor to Clayton Thorson for the Wildcats in 2019. His older brother Cole Johnson played for the Wildcats from 2013-2016, and he is only the second five-star recruit to attend Northwestern under Pat Fitzgerald (the first quarterback).

Career Stats: 234 yards passing, two touchdowns, one interception for Clemson

15 Jace James

WR | 6-foot, 201 lbs. | Sophomore | Carol Stream, Ill.

Likely Role in 2018: Competing for time at wide receiver

A former three-star recruit, James played in 10 games last season as a true freshman, and he made three receptions and played on special teams. This season, James is expected to see more playing time at wide receiver as a sophomore and should feature again on special teams.

Career Stats: 10 appearances, three receptions, 41 yards

14 Charlie Kuhbander

K | 6-foot, 188 lbs. | Sophomore | Springboro, Ohio

Likely Role in 2018: Starting Kicker

After starting at kicker for the Wildcats as a true freshman last season, Kuhbander is expected to reprise the role this season. He set a new record for a first-year kicker at Northwestern last season with 13 field goals. As a returning player, Kuhbander should have more trust from Fitzgerald, which should give him more opportunities to attempt longer field goals this season. His long last season was 40 yards.

Career Stats: 13 appearances, 13 field goals, 43 extra points

13 JR Pace

DB | 6-foot-1, 200 lbs. | Sophomore | College Park, Ga.

Likely Role in 2018: Starting Safety

After losing both Kyle Quiero and Godwin Igwebuike to graduation, Northwestern has no returning starting safeties. J.R. Pace is one of two returning safeties that received significant playing time last season, and he is expected to become one of the starting safeties for the Wildcats this year.

Career Stats: 12 games played, four tackles, two interceptions

13 Andrew Marty

QB | 6-foot-3, 222 lbs. | Redshirt freshman | Cincinnati, Ohio

Likely Role in 2018: Potentially backup quarterback, probably third-string quarterback

Marty was rated the third best quarterback in his recruiting class in Ohio and redshirted last year in his first season for the Wildcats. With a level of uncertainty about the status of Clayton Thorson, Marty, TJ Green, and Aidan Smith have been rotating taking reps with the first, second and third teams. This season, Marty should compete with Green and Smith for the backup role behind Thorson and has a chance to step in and start if Thorson is not ready for Purdue on August 30, though Green would be the favorite.

Career Stats: None

12 JJ Jefferson

WR | 5-foot-10, 167 lbs. | Freshman | Houston, Texas

Likely Role in 2018: Competing for time at wide receiver or redshirt

Rated as a three-star prospect by ESPN and being a true freshman in a talented group of receivers, JJ Jefferson is expected to have limited opportunities this season. The smallest wide receiver on the roster, many would expect him to redshirt this season and develop further but the new redshirt rules may allow him to get some game action and maintain four years of eligibility. Our report from Kenosha noted that Jefferson showed explosive speed and scored multiple touchdowns during scrimmages. While playing time may be limited this season, he appears to be one to watch for the future.

Career Stats: None

11 Aidan Smith

QB | 6-foot-2, 210 lbs. | Sophomore | Fort Wayne, Ind.

Likely Role in 2018: Competing for third-string quarterback

As a three-star recruit, Smith was rated the No. 28 pro-style Quarterback in the nation and the No. 11 prospect in Indiana. He redshirted his first season at Northwestern, and he made his first appearance for the Wildcats last season in a blowout win over Minnesota. The most athletic of the group of quarterbacks competing for the backup role, he likely falls below TJ Green on the depth chart.

Career Stats: One appearance

11 AJ Hampton

DB | 5-foot-11, 166 lbs. | Freshman | Warren, Ark.

Likely Role in 2018: Competing for time at cornerback/redshirt

As a true freshman and three-star recruit out of Florida, AJ Hampton joins a deep pool of cornerbacks after flipping from Toledo to Northwestern. The Wildcats return four cornerbacks who saw playing time in the last two seasons and two other returning cornerbacks, which may make it difficult for Hampton to see any significant playing time this season in the defensive backfield. As a true freshman, many would expect him to redshirt before seeing the field.

Career Stats: None

10 Alonzo Mayo

DB | 5-foot-11, 186 lbs. | Junior | Baltimore, Md.

Likely Role in 2018: Competing for a starting cornerback position

After redshirting his freshman year, Alonzo Mayo has appeared in 14 games over the last two seasons. He started four games at cornerback last season. He is expected to compete for the starting job at cornerback and potentially receive more playing time at the nickel spot.

Career Stats: 14 appearances, 39 tackles

10 TJ Green

QB | 6-foot-2, 215 lbs. | Junior | Leawood, Kansas

Likely Role in 2018: Competing for (hopefully) backup quarterback

The son of former NFL quarterback Trent Green, TJ walked on to Wildcats in 2016 after a highly successful high school career. After redshirting his first year, he has served as a backup quarterback for the Wildcats for the last two seasons. He made his first appearance for Northwestern last season, in a 49-7 win over Bowling Green. This season, Green will compete with Aidan Smith and Andrew Marty for the backup role if Clayton Thorson is healthy. While has been sharing reps with Smith and Marty in the preseason, Green appears to be receiving the majority of the reps with the first and second team so far in camp and looks like he may be in line to be the top backup for the Wildcats, assuming Thorson is a go.

Career Stats: Three appearances