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Northwestern’s 21st century underappreciated Hall Of Fame

These guys made the underdogs tick.

NCAA Football: Nevada at Northwestern Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

In order to conclude our content-filled week covering Northwestern underdogs, there is no better way to wrap it up than by making our very own Northwestern Underappreciated Hall of Fame! Although it is difficult to cultivate a list spanning through the entire history of Northwestern’s revenue sports teams, we gave the 21st century a shot!

Sanjay Lumpkin

Recency bias plays a part here, but Lumpkin was one of the first names to make this list. Most Northwestern diehards will give Lumpkin his fair share of credit, but outside of Evanston, not many know the name. To start, he was the senior co-captain, along with Bryant Mcintosh, on Northwestern’s first-ever tournament team. The Minnesotan’s stats hardly stand out: He averaged 4.4 points per game in his five seasons, but he grabbed 5.4 rebounds per game his senior year, proving himself as a valuable asset on the boards.

Outside of rebounds, most of Lumpkin’s value to the team came outside of the stat page. According to KenPom, his usage rate among Wildcat starters was nearly invisible; he contributed in under 12 percent of all Northwestern possessions. Yet, somehow, he ranked highest on the team and 50th nationally in offensive rating, slightly above the likes of current NBA regulars Frank Mason (Kansas) and John Collins (Wake Forest). Lumpkin did all of the little things for Northwestern. Whether it was setting a pivotal screen to free a lane to the basket for Bryant McIntosh, diving on the floor to extend a possession for Northwestern, or guarding the opposing team’s best player, he gave every ounce of energy for Northwestern he stepped on the floor. Who will ever forget Lumpkin’s dunk to seal NU’s stunning road victory in Madison?

The 6-foot-7 guard/forward was the ultimate underdog for the Wildcats.

Drew Crawford

If there is any former Wildcat with whom I sympathize, it has to be Crawford. The former Wildcat forward started all 34 games in his freshman season of 2009. This NU team had legitimate tournament aspirations with a starting five that featured Juice Thompson, John Shurna, Jeremy Nash and Luka Mirkovic. Crawford never came any closer to making the NCAA tournament than he did that year. Still, he evolved into a stud by the time he left Evanston.

In the following two seasons, Crawford averaged 12 and 16 points, respectively, to pair with nearly five boards a game. Then, ten games into his senior season, he suffered a season-ending injury. After the season, NU fired Bill Carmody and hired Chris Collins. Although the Naperville native considered transferring from Evanston with no shortage of options, he opted to stay at Northwestern. Northwestern struggled in his fifth season (and Collins’ first with NU), but nonetheless, it was a tremendous move by Crawford to stay.

Collins often talks about the importance of Crawford’s decision to stay for his redshirt senior season in Evanston, as it was the head coach’s true first commitment. NU finished the season 14-19 (6-12 in the Big Ten), but his decision to stay helped Collins avoid a nightmare first campaign.

Regardless, Crawford’s value to Northwestern’s basketball program cannot be understated. Although he never played with any member of the 2016-2017 Wildcat team besides Sanjay Lumpkin and Nate Taphorn, his tenure set the foundation for the first-ever tournament team. Once NU made the tournament, Collins credited Crawford at NU’s NCAA tournament watch party for being one of the team’s key bridge pieces.

I just wish Crawford was born a couple years later so that we could have seen how far the 2017 team would have gone with him and Vic Law as the team’s starting forwards.

Austin Carr

After walking onto Northwestern’s football team as a true freshman in 2012, Carr became more well-known for his music rather than his football skills. He redshirted as a true freshman, failed to play a single snap in the following season and then saw action in all 12 games as a redshirt sophomore. Carr finished his junior year second on the team with 16 receptions for 302 yards, but his true explosion did not come until he was a senior.

Carr caught 90 passes for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016. In all three categories, he finished first in the Big Ten — above the likes of Chris Godwin, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel — and 18th nationally in receiving yards, one spot higher than former SMU Mustang and current Denver Bronco, Courtland Sutton.

Now, Carr holds the single-season program record in receiving yards, and he’s tied for the lead in touchdowns and third in receptions behind just Richard Buchanan and Zeke Markshausen.

Generally, I think most Northwestern fans know Carr’s fifth season was impressive. But, I am not sure they know just how impressive it was. It was the best statistical season ever for a Northwestern wideout. Additionally, his story as a whole is underappreciated by college football fans. That’s why he made this list.

Justin Jackson

You are probably asking why Justin Jackson is on this list, and that’s a fair question.

After all, JJTBC is one of, if not, the most well-known Northwestern Wildcat football player in the 2000s. He finished first among all NU rushers with 5,440 rushing yards and 41 rushing touchdowns. You could easily make a logical argument that Justin Jackson was more valuable to Northwestern’s offense than Clayton Thorson.

Yet, that is not the point. Jackson is loved by anyone affiliated to Northwestern. His charisma, personality, and skills on the football field make him one of the most loveable Wildcats of all time. So how is he underappreciated?

Simply put, he never received nearly enough national respect. Jackson was not just one of the best running backs in the Big Ten but in the country. He ranks fourth in career rushing yards in conference history. Jackson may be slightly underappreciated by Wildcat fans who may have taken his success for granted. But on a national scale, he deserved more respect. There is no reason Justin Jackson should be anything other than a household name nationally. Whether it was in the Pinstripe Bowl against Pittsburgh and James Conner, or the many duels against Jonathan Taylor and Wisconsin, Jackson never received the love he deserved. That is why he holds a firm spot in the Northwestern Underappreciated Hall of Fame.

Mike Hankwitz

From 2005-2007, Northwestern’s defense, led by defensive coordinator Greg Colby, finished 84th, 69th and 75th nationally in defensive S&P+, a statistic derived by Bill Connelly which essentially measures a defense’s adjusted scoring average on a national level. The following season Northwestern fired Colby and hired defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz. The results are astonishing.

In Hank’s first year on the job, Northwestern’s defensive S&P+ rose to 34th nationally as the unit allowed just over 19 points per game. Over the next few seasons, Hankwitz’ defense struggled a bit.

Yet, since 2014, Hankwitz’s unit’s S&P+ hasn’t finished worse than 37th and its average finish sits at 25th nationally.

Without Hankwitz, I truly do not know where Northwestern football would be right now. With Mick McCall’s horrendous offensive outputs over the past few years, Northwestern would be a consistent bottom feeder of the Big Ten if it weren’t for a Hankwitz-coached defense that bailed the team out time and again.

The 72-year-old is often referred to as “The Mad Scientist” by those around the program and has clearly earned the nickname. Similar to Carr, it feels like Hankwitz is still underappreciated by a bulk of Northwestern fans.

Hankwitz is relatively old for a coordinator, but it still blows my mind that he never receives any press for a head coaching job. He may not want to be a head honcho, but if his track record at NU proves anything, he has earned an interview by now.

Matthew Harris

In 2013, Matthew Harris was one of true freshmen to receive playing time for Northwestern. He received minutes at cornerback but was also Northwestern’s primary kick returner where he did an admiral job.

As a true sophomore, Harris started all 12 games at corner across from Nick VanHoose, and season Northwestern allowed the 32nd fewest passing yards nationally after finishing just 92nd the year before. He finished the season with two interceptions, nine pass deflections, and two forced fumbles.

In 2015, Northwestern ranked 31st in pass defeense as Harris chipped in four interceptions and 17 pass deflections. He earned third team All-Big Ten honors. Just one year later as a senior, Harris was forced to medically retire two games into the season. Northwestern finished 105th nationally in passing yards allowed.

The results speak for themselves; Harris alone made Northwestern’s pass defense a unit to be feared. The secondary was even dubbed as “The Sky Team” with Harris!

Once Harris retired, though, his tenure as Wildcat became an afterthought among fans. In 2016, Northwestern lost its first two games to Western Michigan and Illinois State. Ironically, once Harris retired, the team won seven of its final 11 games.

Still, I believe Northwestern fans undervalue Harris. If he were healthy his senior season, the secondary would have been dramatically better with Montre Hartage starting across from him. He may not have been an offensive skill player like Justin Jackson or Carr, but Harris’s value to the mid-2010s Northwestern defenses can’t and shouldn’t be understated.