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Spring football press conference notes: Pat Fitzgerald, AJ Hampton and Ryan Hilinski

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Some comments from the coach, quarterback and corner midway through spring practices.

After their eleventh practice of the spring, head coach Pat Fitzgerald, cornerback AJ Hampton and quarterback Ryan Hilinski spoke to the media about the team’s progress, NU’s draft prospects and a variety of other topics.

Pat Fitzgerald

Opening Statement: Hope everybody’s well. I literally just walked off the field, so it kinda feels like this is post-practice interviews as normal. 11 practices in. Little bit different schedule this year. We modified some things. Instead of three weeks during the Winter Quarter, we went two weeks to give us a little more time in the weight room and obviously with the coordinator change. We then, as we always do, took finals and Spring Break off, which is normal, and then we were asked to onboard for a week. So, a little bit extended spring practices, we’re in the middle of our three-week phase here with one more to go this week on Saturday. Just wrapped up number 11, and we’ll have 13-15 next week. Kinda a little bit longer of a spring for our team, but I thought today in particular was one of our more enthusiastic, spirited practices. I feel like this group is really starting to come together. Still a very abnormal type of way that we have to go about our daily business, and the guys have handled it incredibly well. I’ve got some new faces, with the early enrollees, Sully [Brendan Sullivan] and Jacob [Gill] and Mac [Uihlein] and AT3 [Anthony Tyus III]. Those guys are molding and meshing in well. As always, our upperclassmen are doing a terrific job helping them through the process. Ryan [Hilinski] was able to enroll and started getting some experience at quarterback when we got back for the Spring Quarter, so he’s been with us for four practices or five practices. And then, to get back Jason Whittaker, Jason Gold, Samdup Miller, again, it’s quite a bit of talent there that I just mentioned. You add that with the group that we have coming back, a lot to be excited about and a lot of work ahead of us with these next four practices. And then we will hit it hard in May, as we always do. Off to a good start. A lot of competition. No jobs will be won in the spring, so if you ask who our starting quarterback is I will mute my line and you can do your own articles. But a lot of work to be done, and a lot of excitement ahead for ‘21.”

On Rashawn Slater and Greg Newsome II as people: I’ll start with Rashawn. A young man from Houston, Texas that, unfortunately for his high school experience, maybe they didn’t win a lot of games. But you could tell they were changing the culture of the team when he was there. When you went and watched him in practice there was one guy that jumped out, and it was him. It was athletically, it was size, it was the person he was, when you got in the building everyone loved him, adored him. Great family, professional family, his dad had a great NBA career. He came in here, right away, ready to go, ready to compete. Earned a starting role as a freshman, and then obviously had an illustrious career. You’ve probably seen the videos and that is who he is, he’s a humble guy. But when he steps on the field that humility goes away, and he’s a physical, talented, light-on-his-feet guy that has an incredibly high ceiling moving forward, with him playing only three years for us. Is he gonna be the first guy off the board? I don’t know, I think that’s gonna be an exciting storyline at the offensive line position. And if he’s not, I think he’ll go pretty quickly after that.

Greg, obviously, Glenbard North, the tradition and great experience we have had there. He’ll be the second NFL player in my time that played for Ryan Wilkins. Obviously he went down to IMG for his senior year, but he and his mom and his family were adamant that they'd stay loyal to his commitment to us. A lot of other schools came in and recruited him, and he stayed true to us. He’s a great leader in the back-end, great playmaker, very high football IQ. From a football standpoint IQ, he can not only be a corner, but also sub-nickel player. He’s got the physicality to be able to do that. With him, you get passion. You see it on the field. It shows up on tape. That wasn’t the fake juice that some young men have, he’s a passionate player.

Both guys are complete. Both guys are ready to go. Both guys will be ready to start on day one when they walk into an organization, and both guys are bonafide first-rounders. And we’re incredibly proud of them. And they’ll walk out of here, obviously, with their degree, and that’s what it’s all about. They’re prepared for life, they’re prepared for the NFL, and we couldn’t be more proud of them.”

On whether this is the most exciting NFL Draft in Northwestern history: I don’t know, I get pretty hyped up for all of ‘em. I’m excited to be going! I’m going to the draft to support him, and we’ll hopefully have more guys’ names called as the Draft goes along. I didn’t get my name called, so I’m just gonna soak it all up. I’m not gonna be a head coach that day, I’m gonna be a fan. I might be asking some of these other guys for autographs with my guys.

On what the attention surrounding Slater and Newsome means to the program. Young men that we recruit want to get a great degree from a great school. They want to play championship football. They want to be developed for life and they want to be developed for the NFL. And we’ve had a ton of NFL players in my time. I think last year was the most that we’ve had in program history as we started training camp, and now, to have two first-rounders shows every prospect in country that you can come to Northwestern and you can have it all. Really proud of the development that our nutrition staff, our strength staff, our athletic training staff, sports psych, sports science, our assistant coaches, that we’ve put around and had that motto to be the best player development staff in the country. And you can come here and have a top ten degree, play top ten football, and go on to play in the National Football League and get first round money and first round opportunities. I don’t know if there’s anywhere better to be right now, to be playing, than with us. I know I’m a little bit biased, but what else more do you want? I don't know what else more you could want as a prospective student athlete.

On early impressions of Ryan Hilinski: He has come in like the other transfers that we’ve had at the quarterback position. Really humble with an open mind. Working hard to build relationships and learn the offense. He’s made a couple plays in practice and demonstrated some juice that we love to see in practice, especially when we get going competitively. I don’t get really upset about guys having a lot of passion in practice, and to see Ryan jump right into it, I think the guys liked it. I think he’s five practices in. It’s unfair to have any assessment at this point, but I think he’s doing everything he can to learn the system and competing, and who Coach Anderson is. He knows who Coach Bajakian is. But we're really excited to have him in that room and excited to have him competing. From a leadership standpoint, he’s just getting started in training camp. So he’s just been learning guys names, learning that the water’s east, the city’s south. You know, where Lunt Hall is, Sargent Hall, Bobb, all that stuff.

On whether NU’s recruiting pitch has changed at all: I think the narrative is written based on the success you have. I’ll go back to the mid-90s when Coach Barnett was talking about “belief without evidence.” And that was that you have to have faith when you come here that we’re gonna win. Now we have the evidence. We’ve won Big Ten West championships two out of the last three years, four straight bowl championships, on the eve of two first round picks of young men that weren’t top 100 players in the country coming out high school, showing the way we develop our young men. And, again, the credit goes to them. They’ve but the work in, they bought into how we do things. The pitch change is just honesty. Open up the hood, show young people what the engine looks like underneath that drives this development process. And, most importantly, finally getting recruits around our players. That’s been the issue. They can get around Walter Athletics Center, and Ryan Fieldhouse, and Wilson Field, and Hutchinson Field, and Martin Field and what we have infrastructure-wise. We can bring that to them virtually. It’s different live, when you can walk around, get on campus and all of that. The biggest issue for me has been the inability to get our guys live with prospective student-athletes. That’s really what I’m most excited about. Telling the truth and getting them around our guys.

On the Northwestern-to-NFL scouting and front office pipeline: We have had a great run. It started as a slow trickle. I got a couple of great teammates that really started that going, and then it just seemed like, as we got more and more guys into that pipeline that were doing a terrific job in multiple organizations, I’m starting to get calls not only about our players, but directors of scouting and general managers calling about my staff. Maybe I’m a little bit different than other head coaches. When I do year-end evaluations, I talk about three, five and 10 year plans with our staff. And when a young man or a young woman that’s been on our staff says “I have aspirations of going into the NFL,” just like we do with our mentor program and player development program, I tap them into that great group of people we have in the NFL. The credit goes again, like with Rashawn and Greg and our other draft-eligible guys, our guys buy in and do a great job developing. Right? Well, our staff members are the same way. They come here, they show up first, they leave last, they bust their tails, they learn how to network. We’ll get them out to do professional development, and they’ll shadow people and do written reports. There’s just been a great pipeline that’s been started. But then once everybody gets in, they’re kicking butt. And I’m really proud of them. I tell them all, “When you leave here, don’t forget about our coaching staff now!” We’ve got some great head coach potential here, don’t forget about hiring some of these guys as head coaches down the line someday.

On whether the football professional pipeline has become incorporated in recruiting: Well, I talk to them about our relationships with the NFL. I have a slide where I show all the former Wildcats that are now in scouting, front office, different roles in the NFL. It’s beyond just the players in this NFL process. When we had pro day, it was like a family reunion with all the Wildcats that were here, and we had a couple of guys who couldn’t make it because they had other responsibilities at other pro days... When we have our practices that are open, we have guys who are Wildcats in their blood come through and it’s a lot of fun.

On what he was looking for in the 2021 recruiting class: Well, first, it starts with needs. You’re looking at this year’s graduating class, and then what you might need going forward... If there is one year you feel like, maybe we need more competition in a room, we may take an extra guy. I’m just being hypothetical here, but say maybe we want an extra DB or wide receiver in this class, even though we started saying we’re gonna take three, maybe we take four. So it starts there with the math. And then it’s about building relationships. We’re way beyond saying “hey we hope you can come out here and compete and get on the field.” We’re only recruiting guys that we believe as a staff are gonna come here from day one and compete to start. Now whether they do or not, that’s gonna be determined when they arrive. But, ultimately, here at Northwestern, the only person that has the ability to offer a scholarship here is me. I don’t believe in the ten independent contractor assistant coaches. They are in charge of their areas, they are in charge of their positions and building the recruiting board with the recruiting office, but when you get offered a scholarship here, it is offered by me. We want to dig as deep as we can on who the person is and whether or not they’re gonna fit our locker room first. Obviously our campus community and our academics, and then whether or not we think they’re gonna come here and compete to start. We have been in this place for a handful of years, and that is why you’re seeing more impact players come and start or players become significant contributors right away. I do think we’re gonna see more of that going forward. And then, as we go into this new world with the ability to automatically transfer, we all have to adapt. I’m doing my projections on where things are gonna have to go. The new world is gonna be that you’re not gonna sign 15, 20, 25 high school players anymore. You’re gonna sign maybe 12 high school players and five transfers. And that’s gonna be different each year based on your needs. There’s definitely a new frontier that we’re gonna go into. We’re fully gonna embrace it. We’re gonna adapt and evolve, and we’re gonna do everything we can to have our football program compete and win championships every year.

On whether the defense is working specifically on addressing QB draw plays: First of all, it’s just recognition by the defensive line of what’s called a short set. Instead of the offensive linemen going into their normal drop or normal pass set, typically it’s a one-step pop. There’s certain things we look at, and it starts up there. We have to be able to recognize that. Number two, you stop draws, screens or reverses through communication. Our guys that are the twos, the guys on the sidelines, our staff, the guys on the field need to recognize those plays and communicate them. And then, third, once you recognize it, you’ve got to be able to fit it right, and get off blocks and tackle. Some of those plays, you gotta tip your hat, they had a good scheme or they got us on a good call, it was a good job by the offense. And then other times it’s us not recognizing it, not communicating it and then not executing it. So absolutely, we work it, you drill it and you try to improve on those things from the year before. It’s one of those things that we’ve been working on and will continue to work on, and probably work on every year. But it’s definitely a point of emphasis.

On whether Slater and Newsome’s stocks have been higher behind the scenes than they have seemed on online draft boards over time: How fun is it post-Super Bowl, all we talk about is the draft? It’s awesome if you are a draft junkie. You can go everywhere to get it. So there’s narratives in that world, and that kinda gets to become the mainstream perception. Then we get to draft weekend and reality sets us in. The reality that sets in is that I started getting asked two years ago about Rashawn and Greg, and more guys, frankly. When you start at this level, when you start in the Big Ten as an underclassmen and you pop off the tape like that, of course scouts are gonna start asking me about them. These guys were known in NFL circles a lot earlier then they were in the mainstream media. Once they got recognized as potential NFL players, their play went up. The production, the consistency went up. Now you start talking about “yeah, you’re gonna get drafted. Maybe they’re a day three, maybe they’re a day two.” And you start comparing them to what’s available, and you are talking about potentially being the best at their position in the entire country. I am incredibly proud of them. They’ve bought into what we do, they’ve put the work in, their families have been incredibly supportive. And I am really proud of our entire staff and program, living that motto that we’re gonna be the best player development program in the country. There will be no group of people that is more excited than everybody that’s supporting these guys on Thursday the 29th when they hear their names get called.

AJ Hampton

Hampton’s Opening Statement: Hello. I appreciate this guys for the opportunity. Really blessed and ready for you guys to shoot ‘em out.

On the emerging players to watch in the DB room: Especially in the DB room, we feel like we have a lot of great young talent. They still have to learn the defense. But we have a lot of kids with a lot of potential. Even the offense, a lot of young dudes stepping up. That’s the kind of things you get from it, especially, when kids leave, come in and out, It’s that next stage so you need people to step up. Personally, DB-wise, I don’t wanna spoil it. I definitely feel really good about the future of Northwestern and the types of players because, as you said, the culture is changing. We are trying to be that top team.

On new defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil: It’s been good. I really love being able to pick Coach O’Neil’s brain. Having a defensive coordinator come from the NFL, he’s been able to teach us some tips and some tricks of things you see in the NFL in terms of route recognition, stuff like that and just little stuff, teaching us how to play certain techniques and just really believing in us. The one thing I really like about Coach O’Neil: he loves talking football, so in terms of just picking his brain, that’s one of the biggest things that I feel like has been an advantage for us. We all know we had a good secondary last year, but we want to be known as the best secondary. I feel like he’s been able to provide tools to us that we would need and just really help us reach that next level. Honestly, he just makes us put more trust in ourselves

On how he compares to Coach Hank schematically and coaching style: Respond to the ball. Everything is about the ball. We are trying to get turnovers. As you heard talking to Coach Fitz, we are putting a big emphasis on getting the ball. Get the ball, give it to the offense, we score touchdowns, bottom line. So if we find a way to get the ball, be physical, trust ourselves, play fast. I mean, that’s really the biggest thing, so we have been trying to just make things a lot simpler, being able to play fast, being able to trust our players and just really let that thing slide because at the end of the day, it’s just football. That’s what we came here to do: play football and win games.

The age is a little bit different. Coach Hank is the GOAT. I would never call out Coach Hank. But in terms of edge, Coach O’Neill is a jack guy. When I say jack, you can just really see it in his eyes, that he really cares and he really has that passion. That’s what really makes me connect with him, because, as you guys know, I am a very energetic guy. Things like that, I feed off of energy like that, so when you see your coach who is probably like 40 or 50 being just as juicy as you, you are like, “wow man, why wouldn’t I?” So it’s just stuff like that. I am not saying Coach Hank was never juicy, but it’s just one thing that I kind of noticed, personally, that I have really grown to love and appreciate.

On his relationship with Greg Newsome II: When I first took my official visit to Northwestern, Greg was my host. It was always funny, I used to joke with him, he is actually younger than me. But I knew that when I came in, the one thing he said to me, he said, “when we come in here, we got one goal. Our goal is to make it to the league and our goal is to shut people down. And we are gonna do that, we are gonna be brothers, we are gonna be close through it all, but we are gonna work.” And that’s one thing I kind of cherished about Greg. He’s always had that mindset that “I’m the best player on the field.” And he’s always been like “why not? why not us? Play with that chip on your shoulder.” Especially Northwestern, we already don’t get the recognition we need. Me and Greg talk almost all the time. That’s one thing I really loved about Greg, and it’s been an honor to play with him and pick his brain as well.

On his mentality switch as an upperclassmen: Just in how the leadership has changed, I remember that I always used to be the younger guy, but now, being the older guy, I don’t really have to flip how people see me. I realize people will always question me like I am the older guy, so when the young dudes come in like “okay if he is doing something bad, it makes it acceptable for me.” So in terms of filtering things like that, ideas like that, technique, I try to do everything perfectly and I try to be the ideal leader so that it helps out for for the young dudes below. Because at Northwestern, we have a standard. So I just really try to follow that standard and set that tradition so that when younger guys come in, they know we are here to work, we are to get better at the end of the day.

On important message for underclassmen: One thing I have kind of obtained is to treat every day like it’s your last. I know we are here at spring ball and getting later on in the practices, but really, what I have been trying to tell our guys in the meeting room and just after practice is to “treat every practice like it’s your last.” When you come out there, try to pick one thing you can get better at. If you pick one thing you can get better at and you take that each day... think about coming out there and attacking. “What am I gonna get better at today?” If you attack that, who knows, by the time the season starts, you have ten things that you’re good at and it’s just that much easier. That’s just playing football, you’re reacting. That’s just one thing I am just trying to say. I mean it’s just football, there’s no reason to overcomplicate it, you know? We’re just out there having fun.

On what about Newsome has allowed him to reach this point: I’m gonna be honest, I said it earlier, Greg thinks he’s the best at everything, no matter what it is, and that’s why I love Greg. We’re playing a video game? He thinks he’s the best at that. But it’s just that chip on his shoulder. He takes everything personally and he wants to be the best and he wants to win. I feel like that’s definitely a big reason, that’s one thing I have been trying to transfer over to the young guys, and I am really glad he transferred over to me. Because when you play with that chip on your shoulder, that “why not me,” it really takes you to a totally different level. In terms of his mindset, I feel like that is one of the biggest things that has allowed him to reach that next level and really separate himself and get the respect that he deserves.”

Ryan Hilinski

Opening statement: Good to see everyone’s faces. Good to be here, just excited to be here and blessed to have this opportunity.

On why he chose Northwestern: Going into the transfer process, there were schools that reached out, and Northwestern was one that stood out. There is a sense of pride that you walk around this campus with, and a sense of accomplishment, and a sense of “I’ve gotta do my duty” both in school and on the field. I think Northwestern is one of a kind when it comes to an academic program and the football program as well. Their history has been winning games, and thats what I want to do, along with getting an education, because football doesn’t last forever, and Northwestern will set me up great for life after football. Coach Fitz was also a main reason, and Coach Bajakian. They were really hands on in this process, and they made me feel welcome. So I thought it was a great fit for myself and also my family.

On his early impressions of Evanston and Chicago: I actually visited here twice before I officially enrolled. I came in January when it was a little bit cold. So that’s a big difference from South Carolina. I was freezing a little bit. Two weeks later, I came for a weekend, and then I officially got here towards the end of March. Chicago is a great place. Evanston is a great place. The two people that I moved in with are Sam Gerak and Hunter Johnson. So I’ve established a great relationship with them. Hunter has been more than welcoming and he’s been great with helping me learn the playbook. Sam, of course, is a guy that’s been here. He knows the playbook inside and out. He’s a leader on this team. So it’s been great. The locker room has been very welcoming. The wind is a little crazy. A little breezier than South Carolina. But I love it here. It’s a great place with a lot of great people in the city, and I feel welcomed here, which is even better.

On how his relationship with NU was built during his high school recruiting process: I was actually talking a lot to Berkeley Holman, we threw after practice a little. And we were talking about high school and scholarships, and I remembered Northwestern being my third scholarship offer. I remember establishing a relationship with Coach Fitz and Coach McCall. Just going through that process, Northwestern was always in my pocket, making sure I was doing great, asking me about school first, asking about family. I remembered that when I entered into the transfer portal, that they really cared about me as a person before the athlete, which is extremely important to me. And I established a great relationship with Fitz back then, and throughout the transfer process, I established a great relationship with him again. And, like he said, I was sitting in here when he was answering questions, and he’s the only guy to offer scholarships. It was a big honor to get on a Zoom with him and to hear him offer me a full scholarship to Northwestern. It was a great honor. I committed on the spot, and I haven’t looked back since.

On what he’s done to get to know his teammates off-the-field: It feels like I have been here for a while now because of the relationships that I have with these guys. Marshall Lang, he texted me the other day. “We’re gonna go hang out at TG’s,” he said, which is Thomas Gordon’s. And I’m like, “you act like I know where that is.” And he was like “dude it feels like you’ve been here for a minute, I’m sorry.” But going to dinner, whether it’s with the linemen and the quarterbacks. We went to Longhorn Steakhouse the other night. Whether it’s watching a fight, whether it’s just hanging out at an apartment and just talking ball and getting to know ‘em. It’s something that’s important to me, it’s something that should be extremely important to everybody on this team, to get to know the guys you’re going out onto that field with and going to war with. So, to answer your question, I’ve been trying to do everything I can off-the-field. I will try to get some golf swings with them and anything I can to know know these guys. Know their birthday, their favorite color, their favorite meal because that is my duty as a quarterback and transfer, to fit into the locker room.

On transitioning to Bajakian’s offense from South Carolina and whether he’s reached out to Peyton Ramsey: That’s the great thing about football. A hitch is always a hitch. A hank is always gonna be a hank. A 10-yard comeback will always be a 10-yard comeback, it’s just people are going to have different names for those things. With Coach Bajakian, a lot of the things we run, schematically, are similar. So when I came in first day, I really hadn’t gone over footwork with the linemen or the running backs, but I was able to fit in well with those guys because it’s stuff I’ve run before. I have been around football my whole life, so it was just kinda second nature, kinda clicked for me. Schematically, a lot of things have fit in really well. I feel like have a good sense of playbook. I’ve gotta master that playbook, so I’ve got a long ways to go for sure, I can always get better every single day. To answer your second question, Peyton actually reached out to me and he was great during the transfer process. I was able to get his phone number and talk to him about everything, whether it is the locker room, what guys I need to approach differently, what guys I need know better and just how the transfer process to him. He was more than helpful, and I am extremely grateful for Peyton. And I wish him nothing but the best at the next level, which I know he’ll have, and I look forward to watching him on Sundays.

On Mike Bajakian: Coach Bajakian is awesome. He’s got juice. When we go from station to station, Coach Bajakian is full on sprinting like it’s a 100-yard dash. In terms of learning the offense and from an on-field standpoint, Coach and I, when we got acquainted in December — and I actually made the transfer process in January — we met every single day on Zoom to try and learn the offense left and right, front to back. We met every single day until I stepped on campus. He’s been great with helping me learn the offense, helping me apply terms and things like that. Coach Scott is our assistant QB coach, and he’s been helping me learn the playbook. I’ll come in here and write the script on the board and I’ll call him and be like “team room?”, and he’ll be like “yeah, sounds good” and just helps me if I have a question on something like that. Everybody has been helpful and giving me every chance to learn the playbook, and I’ve still got a long ways to go, but I am excited about the opportunity I have. Coach Bajakian, his mind is awesome, from when I look at the script up and down, I can tell what he’s trying to do with this offense. And it gets me excited and pumped every day to go to practice.

On what he wants Northwestern fans to know about him: I am excited to join this prestigious college, this prestigious university. And I think, if I wanted anyone to know anything about me, it’s that I am an energetic guy that loves to be a leader, loves to take charge, and that brings a lot to the table. I am a family person first. Hilinski’s Hope is a nonprofit organization that my parents and my older brother Kelly run that we started after my older brother Tyler passed away from suicide back in 2018. Mental health is an extremely important thing to me. I know, upon stepping on campus, a couple teammates already asked about Hilinski’s Hope, so I’ve been able to connect with a couple guys already on the team. And if I want anyone to know anything about me, it’s that I’m a person lover. I love making people happy. If that’s with wins, I’m gonna do that. If thats with straight A’s, I'm gonna do that. I love to complete. [AJ] was talking about NCAA [Football 14] and Greg. If it’s Greg and it’s NCAA, I’m gonna compete and I’m gonna beat whoever it is. I’m a competitor. I love to win. I’m a people pleaser. And I’m a family first guy.

On Big Ten/SEC and Northwestern/South Carolina culture differences: South Carolina was a great place. A lot of guys there that I still keep in touch with that I love. Those guys are my brothers, of course. SEC is no joke. Going against ‘Bama in my second start was an eye opener for sure. Coming to Northwestern, it’s no different. These guys love to compete. These guys are looking to win a championship. The energy, day in and day out, whether it’s a lift or practice, these guys bring it. That’s a big eye opener to me. These guys love ball. I can tell Coach Fitz installs that from day one. If you don’t bring the energy, if you don’t bring the juice, you’re gonna get put on your butt. That’s one of the things that stands out to me. And, of course, school. This is one of the top schools in the nation, and it’s something you gotta work hard at, just as hard as football. Studying your script from front to back, you gotta study an astronomy book from front to back. So that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m trying to balance both worlds, and it’s been great so far. I haven’t been overwhelmed. But those are the big differences that I’ve seen so far.

On his major: Broadcast journalism is something that I went into because I wanna stick around football or sports in general if football ends at some point, which it will, because I just love sports, doing something like that. I have been told I have a voice for commentating, so maybe I could do something along the lines of a Tony Romo type of thing. Whatever it is, I want to be in that area. I Know the Medill School is one of the best in with country. I actually switched to a Comm Studies major with an emphasis in journalism because the journalism classes this quarter are offered in the morning and it would have conflicted with our practices. I wanted to balance both, and that was the best way to go about it.

On Hilinski’s Hope: My older brother Tyler passed away January 16, 2018 by suicide, and we didn’t know he was suffering. Tyler was one of the smartest kids you’ll ever know, one of the happiest kids. He always had a smile on his ace. We actually played Fortnite the night before, and he texted me after, “Yo, we gotta play Fortnite again.” And that was that last text I got from him. And our family just decided that we don’t want any other family to go through this trouble. We don’t want any other student-athlete to have to suffer in silence. We want to erase the stigma of mental health, of “you’re weak if you talk about mental health.” No, you are the strongest person that anybody could ever meet if you can talk about it, because it takes a lot of guts to talk about it. It takes a lot of courage to go out, in this world today that we live in, to talk about your mental health, that you’re struggling, that you need some help. In this world, you can’t go through it alone, you need people on your left and your right. Football is a great analogy for it. You can’t run a successful play with ten guys. Such is life. You can’t go through life, you need your friends, your family, your peers, to help you when you’re struggling, to lift you up and bear that cross for you. I think that’s the best way to talk about Hilinski’s Hope. I’m extremely grateful that I have the two best parents in the world that have been nothing but helpful since he passed away. They’re continuing to push Hilinski’s Hope’s message, they are doing Zoom calls left and right with people, trying to do in-persons whenever they can. And I have got the best big brother that’s still here, Kelly Hilinski, who has worked his butt off. He’s just one of the best big brothers. I get to play with him Call of Duty with him every day, even though he’s not here. I get to talk to him over the microphone, and we just talk about practice and stuff. Hilinski’s Hope is still going, and it will go on forever because we don’t want Tyler’s name to die twice.