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Counting down Northwestern’s roster: 59-50

Where old meets new.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve gone through a litany of predictions for Northwestern’s upcoming football season as over the course of this summer. Now, we’re counting down the roster from 99 down to 0 (thank you, John Raine). We’ll provide stats, background, and an outlook for each player’s role headed into 2020.

Rounding out the back half of the roster, the 59-50 group features players on both sides of the ball that vary widely in experience and expected playing time.

58: Wyatt Blake

DL | 6-foot-4, 310 pounds | Redshirt Sophomore | Crystal Lake, IL

Likely role in 2020: Reserve defensive lineman

After redshirting his first year and seeing the field as a backup in only six games last season, the former offensive lineman looks to remain buried in the reserves of Northwestern’s deep defensive line corp.

Career stats: 6 games played

57: Grayson Metz

LB | 6-foot-3, 190 pounds | First-Year | Glen Ellyn, IL

Likely role in 2020: Redshirt

After turning down scholarship offers from Iowa, Syracuse and Louisville in favor of a walk-on spot with the Wildcats, Metz is unlikely to see much playing time during the 2020 season. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Illinois’s West Suburban Conference, Metz noted the importance of Evanston’s close proximity to his hometown of Glen Ellyn in a Chicago Tribune profile, saying “Why would I leave the state and go somewhere that’s not home?”

Career stats: N/A

56: Sam Stovall

OL | 6-foot-4, 300 pounds | Redshirt Sophomore | Chattanooga, TN

Likely role in 2020: Backup center

After playing nine games as a backup guard last season, Stovall, who was listed as a tackle coming out of high school, has an unclear role on the 2020 team due to the depth of the interior offensive line. With the departure of Jared Thomas, however, Stovall may spend the majority of his playing time at center, a position at which fellow veterans Charlie Schmidt and Sam Gerak, as well as blue-chip freshman Peter Skoronski, will compete for the starting job. But with his flexibility and the chances that someone gets injured, he’s a candidate to fill in almost anywhere up front.

Career stats: 10 games played

55: Eku Leota

DL | 6-foot-4, 255 pounds | Redshirt Sophomore | Asheville, NC

Likely role in 2020: Second-string defensive end

As the backup to Samdup Miller, Leota was a consistent fill-in during his first playing season at Northwestern, with his statistical contributions distributed fairly evenly throughout the year. The coaches like his athleticism and think he can be a real impact player, but with Miller back as the third highest-rated returning edge defender in the Big Ten, his role is likely to remain similar in the 2020 season.

Career stats: 12 total tackles (6 solo), 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble

54: Conrad Rowley

OL | 6-foot-3, 300 pounds | Sophomore | Independence, MO

Likely role in 2020: Reserve offensive lineman

Rowley was the only first-year offensive lineman in the ‘Cats’ 2019 recruiting class not to redshirt, potentially indicating a belief from the Northwestern coaching staff that he is due for significant playing time sooner than his fellow former first-years. Still, he will have to stand out to earn a consistent role for himself this season amid a strong group of offensive linemen.

Career stats: 2 games played

53: Jaiden Cameron

DE | 6-foot-3, 225 pounds | First-year | Clayton, OH

Likely role in 2020: Redshirt

After choosing Northwestern over Michigan State, Minnesota, Baylor, and other Power Five programs, Cameron, who had the second-lowest rating from 247Sports of the Wildcats’ incoming recruiting class, will likely have to wait his turn to see the field. His speed, indicated by his sub-4.4 second 40-yard dash time, however, could bring a boost off the edge down the line.

Career stats: N/A

52: Sam Gerak

OL | 6-foot-3, 291 pounds | Redshirt Junior | Avon, OH

Likely role in 2020: Starting offensive lineman

As mentioned in Stovall’s section, the interior offensive line is stacked this year, with a variety of possible starting combinations. That said, after starting all of last season at guard, you can expect to see Gerak somewhere in the starting rotation, whether it be back at guard or in a new role at center.

Career stats: 13 games played

52: Jordan Butler

DT | 6-foot-2, 310 pounds | First-Year | North Las Vegas, NV

Likely role in 2020: Reserve defensive tackle or redshirt

Butler serves as one of many signs of Northwestern’s improving recruiting in its highest-ranked class. A product of IMG Academy, he held offers from powerhouses Notre Dame, USC and Oregon but chose to come to NU. He’ll still likely see only limited field time this year, but expect to see him regularly sooner rather than later, especially with his Big Ten-ready size.

Career stats: N/A

51: Blake Gallagher

LB | 6-foot-1, 235 pounds | Senior | Raynham, MA

Likely role in 2020: Starting WILL linebacker

It’s clear why Blake Gallagher was just named Inside NU’s (tied-for) ninth most important player. Last year he led the team in total and solo tackles with 91 and 47, respectively. He was named Preseason All-Big Ten by Phil Steele of ESPN. If Northwestern’s defense is going to have the same success it has had in recent years, the veteran leader will need to perform at a high level.

Career stats: 248 tackles (134 solo), 4 INTs

50: PJ Spencer

DL | 6-foot-2, 260 pounds | Redshirt First-Year | Prairie Village, KS

Likely role in 2020: Reserve defensive lineman

Spencer, whose non-NU offers included the former home of Morty Schapiro, Williams College, and the second-most prestigious school in Cook County, the University of Chicago, doesn’t look likely to see much playing time this year. But it’ll be a most-strange season if it happens, so who knows.