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The unofficial Northwestern football all-decade two-deep: Offense edition

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There have been a number of impressive playmakers and grinders to don the purple and white on this side of the ball in particular.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Northwestern vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern’s football program has seen exponential growth in the past decade, thanks to the production of a number of players that have established themselves as program greats throughout the past 10 years. From quarterbacks to kickers, we took a look at the depth chart of the decade.

Let’s start by breaking down the offensive side of the ball.

Note: All of these selections are based on the player’s performance and stats at Northwestern only.

Quarterback

First Team: Clayton Thorson, 2015-2018

NCAA Football: Big Ten Conference-Football Championship-Northwestern vs Ohio State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

A four-year starter and the winningest quarterback in the history of the program, Thorson was often taken for granted during his time in Evanston. He gave fans many moments of frustration, but he had a knack for winning games, and that’s what made the players and coaches on his team so enamored with him. In the end, ‘Cats fans will look back fondly upon the Thorson era.

Second Team: Dan Persa, 2010-2011

Off Tackle Empire

Persa was arguably the most talented quarterback to grace Northwestern during the past decade, and his stats back it up. In his junior and senior seasons, Persa threw for 5100 yards, 34 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. He also led the team in rushing during his 2010 campaign. There was so much going for Persa that Northwestern even had a mini-Heisman campaign prior to his senior season.

Honorable Mentions: Kain Colter, Trevor Siemian

Running Back

First Team: Justin Jackson, 2014-2017

NCAA Football: Music Bowl-Kentucky vs Northwestern Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

JJTBC was a dynamic playmaker that was a prominent part of the Northwestern offense for four years. The program’s all time leading rusher, Jackson formed a nice partnership with Thorson during the duo’s time in Evanston. Ultimately, the Carol Streams native rushed for over 5,000 yards, amassed 41 touchdowns on the ground and added 858 yards of receiving across his illustrious career. This was as much of a no-brainer as any choice on the list.

Second Team: Jeremy Larkin, 2017-2018

NCAA Football: Akron at Northwestern Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

There were many options I could have gone with in this slot, but I believe that Larkin deserves it. Primed to take the baton from Jackson when he left the program, the Ohio native gave Northwestern fans plenty of flashes of how good he could be in his season-plus of action. If not for a sad career-ending injury, Larkin had a chance to become an all-time NU running back.

Overall, Jackson separated himself from the pack by a significant margin, and Venric Mark as well as Treyvon Green both have an argument to be made for this second spot, but Larkin’s overwhelming talent and 5+ yards per carry average throughout his short career earned him this designation.

Honorable Mentions: Venric Mark, Treyvon Green, Isaiah Bowser

Wide Receiver

First Team: Austin Carr, 2013-2016

NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Northwestern vs Pittsburgh William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

A player that didn’t break out until his final two years at Northwestern, Carr really shined in his final year in Evanston. Amassing 90 catches and 1200+ yards in his senior season, Carr established himself by earning an All-Big Ten designation and being named Big Ten receiver of the year. It was truly a special season for the receiver.

First Team: Jeremy Ebert, 2010-2011

Another player that shined in his final two years at Northwestern, Ebert clocks in at third for the school’s all-time receiving list. The hard-nosed receiver garnered 2,000 yards in his junior and senior seasons to go with 19 touchdowns. It’s a shame that he wasn’t able to leave NU with a bowl victory, but his impact on the program will always be felt.

First Team: Flynn Nagel, 2015-18

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Lemont native was a reliable receiver for the aforementioned Thorson throughout his career. He was especially productive in the final three years of his presence on campus, collecting 40 or more catches in each year as well as 400+ yards per campaign. His time in Evanston culminated with a Big Ten West title and three bowl victories. Not bad.

Second Team: Bennett Skowronek, 2016-2019

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

A standout wide receiver during his time in Evanston, the big target is sadly leaving for the Fighting Irish next year. That doesn’t mean we can reminisce about his excellent Wildcat career, however. Though he amassed 1400 yards and eight touchdowns, Skowronek’s finest moment was certainly a Big Ten West-clinching catch in Iowa that will forever remain in the minds of NU faithful.

Second Team: Christian Jones, 2011-2015

NU Sports

If not for an injury in his true senior season, Jones had the potential to become a legendary NU wide receiver. In his junior season, the Houston native recorded 54 catches for 668 yards in addition to four touchdowns. A training camp injury hindered his progress, but Jones returned to become a team captain, and he battled back during his redshirt senior campaign.

Second Team: Rashad Lawrence, 2010-2013

Lawrence was a consistent pass-catcher throughout his four year career. While his peak season was his senior campaign, in which he totaled 450+ yards to go along with 31 receptions, he garnered 53 catches for 500+ yards in his sophomore and junior seasons combined. Lawrence was also a key part of the 2012 team that broke Northwestern’s bowl drought.

Honorable Mentions: Demetrius Fields, Tony Jones, Riley Lees

Superback

First Team: Dan Vitale, 2012-2015

Ball State v Northwestern

This was undoubtedly the closest call on this side of the ball. In the end, Vitale gets the leg up on Drake Dunsmore due purely to time on the field, having taken part in 48 games in the 2010s to his predecessor’s 26. Vitale was consistent across his time as a Wildcat, putting up at least 28 receptions, 288 yards, and two touchdowns in each of his four seasons. The man with the flow may not have had the flashiest numbers, but neither Trevor Siemian nor, for a season, Clayton Thorson, could have asked for a more reliable third down target.

Second Team: Drake Dunsmore, 2010-2011

Outback Bowl - Northwestern v Auburn

The final two seasons of Dunsmore’s Wildcat career were incredible, putting up 11 total touchdowns and over 900 yards as a favored target of Dan Persa. The big superback could block too, paving the way when necessary for a limited Wildcat run game. He may have only had half of his career in this decade, but he’s certainly worthy of reaching the list nonetheless.

Honorable Mentions: Garrett Dickerson, Cam Green

Right Tackle

First Team: Rashawn Slater, 2017-2019

NCAA Football: Big Ten Conference-Football Championship-Northwestern vs Ohio State Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The peak of the tackle’s career thus far was his sophomore campaign, in which he was named third team All-Big Ten, started all 14 games and was an integral part of the offensive line that protected a senior Thorson and earned a Big Ten Championship berth. Slater has NFL potential and has since shifted to the left side of the line, where he looks equally as dominant albeit as a member of a much weaker team.

Second Team: Eric Olson, 2012-2016

Olson started a host of games in his final three years and earned player of the game honors after an impressive effort against Minnesota in 2015. The right tackle consistently impressed over the course of his career, despite sidetracking injuries and the changing faces of the players around him.

Right Guard

First Team: Tommy Doles, 2014-2018

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

An absolute Northwestern legend, Doles epitomized the values of the program, both on and off the field. In his sophomore and junior seasons, Doles earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention and an All-Big Ten third team designation, respectively. As a senior captain, he was a significant part of a veteran offensive line that helped pave the route to the Big Ten championship. Doles was one of the most respected players to grace Northwestern this decade, and his presence in and out of the locker room was immense.

Second Team: Jared Thomas, 2015-2019

Right guard may not his best position (though he did see time there over the course of his versatile career), but a spot had to be found for another all-decade leader in the locker room. Thomas excelled in his senior season, in which he was a captain and started every game at the center position. His presence within the team went beyond his play, as he was highly regarded and was an excellent elder voice of this past year’s line.

Center

First Team: Brandon Vitabile, 2010-2014

Vitabile was a consistent part of the Northwestern offensive line for four years, and was named to award watchlists for multiple seasons. He started dozens of games at center for NU, and was a rock throughout his tenure. In addition, he earned some form of All-Big Ten academic recognition in each of his final four years with Northwestern, demonstrating his all-around ability.

Second Team: Brad North, 2013-2017

A player that broke out in his final two seasons in Evanston, North established himself as a key piece during his junior and senior years, starting 26 consecutive games and contributing as a leader. He protected both Thorson and Jackson in 2017, helping one of the best NU offenses of the decade succeed.

Left Guard

First Team: Brian Mulroe, 2010-2012

In his junior and senior campaigns, Mulroe earned All-Big Ten honors, cementing his legacy as one of the best lineman to come through Evanston in the decade. Mulroe made 40 career starts and served as a captain in his senior season, but one of his finest achievements was earning the Randy Walker Wildcat Warrior award, given to a player that demonstrates work ethic, toughness and the attitude of a warrior.

Second Team: Geoff Mogus, 2011-2015

Mogus had three extremely solid seasons in Evanston, mainly playing at left guard but spending some time at left tackle as well. The ability to help out at the most important position on the offensive line is a skill that is vital to thrive as a lineman, and Mogus was able to do that. Unfortunately a season-ending injury cut his senior season short, but he still played an important role in his final year, guiding the line.

Left Tackle

First Team: Al Netter, 2010-2011

Press Democrat

Of all the excellent linemen to suit up for the ‘Cats over the course of the decade, Netter was possibly the best of them. Making 52 consecutive starts at left tackle, he earned All-Big Ten accolades and established himself as one of the most durable Wildcats to ever play. His start record is only matched by Ben Burkett, who shares the record with Netter.

Second Team: Jack Konopka, 2011-2014

Konopka was a solid contributor throughout his tenure at Northwestern. Starting as a superback in his freshman season, he had the kind of versatility that coaches love. As a sophomore, Konopka shifted to right tackle, where he remained for only one year before shifting to left tackle. In 2012, the big man helped Northwestern earn 225 yards per game on the ground, good for fourth in the Big Ten.

Offensive Line Honorable Mentions: Ben Burkett, Ian Park, J.B. Butler


Well, that does it for us on the offensive side of things! Check back soon for the defense/special teams iterations of this exercise. And if you have any disagreements, additions, or notes, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below: