While Northwestern is now just 23 days from kicking off its 2020 season, the ‘Cats will reportedly have to play this year without offensive lineman Sam Stovall and wide receiver Jace James, who both medically retired from football, a program spokesperson told Louie Vaccher of WildcatReport on Thursday.
Vaccher reported that both players retired for reasons related to injury, and neither player is listed on the 2020 roster anymore.
Both Stovall and James saw playing time last season, and their absences create depth questions with the season just around the corner. Stovall was expected to contribute significant minutes at guard and center, a position now in flux. After redshirting his freshman year and playing just one game in 2018, the Tennessee native appeared in nine contests last season.
His loss, alongside Rashawn Slater’s decision to opt out, raises concerns for a unit needing to replace two rotational players. Expect position coach Kurt Anderson to shuffle his players, especially at the beginning of the season. Stovall’s departure further opens the door for talented first-years Peter Skoronski and Josh Priebe to challenge for playing time.
While James was not slated to be a starter this year like Stovall might have been, he contributed to the receiving corps throughout his time on the roster and would have been in the regular rotation again this season. The local product appeared in nine games as a redshirt sophomore. He caught 10 passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns — tied for the team high in receiving scores.
With just over three weeks until it opens the season against Maryland, Northwestern will have to adjust to these absences and address concerns within both position groups.
This is the third straight year Northwestern has dealt with medical retirements. Running back Jeremy Larkin retired mid-way through the 2018 season while Cam Green, Austin Hiller and Chee Anyanwu stepped away last offseason.