In 2011, well into his tenure at Northwestern, Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald started a new tradition in which he gifted the No. 1 jersey to the ‘Cat that most consistently displayed the values, attitudes, and character of the football program. The ‘Cat bestowed with this honor in 2021 was fifth year defensive lineman Joe Spivak, and for good reason.
Spivak, or Spivs as he is referred to by his teammates and friends, is the most energetic and outgoing player on the Wildcat roster as he can singlehandedly hype up the team for any situation. Need to get ready for a big game? Spivs will hype you up. In need of a halftime boost? Do not fret, Spivs will bring the juice. Need an all around good guy to help motivate your team? You guessed it, Spivs is on the way. During some players’ tenures at Northwestern, it takes time to develop into a vocal leader, but that was not the case for Spivak.
Spivs joined the Wildcat football program in 2017 after having a monster high school career at Montini Catholic High School in Lombard, Illinois. His accolades off the field were impressive enough, as he was a team captain for three years, four-time academic all-conference, and two-time academic all-state. His all-around success was enough to garner offers from the likes of programs such as Michigan State and Nevada, but, ultimately, he chose to walk onto Chicago’s Big Ten Team.
During his first season at Northwestern, he impressed coaches with his work ethic, unrelenting drive and positive attitude, which led to him being one of only a handful of true freshmen to see action in 2017. Now, Spivak’s statistics his freshman season — or any season for that matter — will not blow you out of the water, as he recorded one tackle in five games, but his love for the purple and white was sure to win over the hearts of many from the second he stepped on campus, regardless of statistical performance.
He quickly adopted the blue collar attitude that Coach Fitzgerald constantly preaches and even earned defensive practice player of the week honors during his first-year campaign. In the 2018, he once again supplied the juice, helping to power the ‘Cats to their first ever first place finish in the Big Ten West. However, he did not see a large amount of snaps, which led to him recording no defensive statistics that year.
The 2019 season was not the best of years for the Wildcat squad for a variety of reasons: injuries, inconsistent quarterback play and, overall, a lack of offense. Although the team as a whole struggled, Spivak really started to develop into a run stopper in Mike Hankwitz’s defense. He recorded 8 tackles and .5 sacks in 12 games, both of which were career highs. His 5-foot-11, 300 pound frame makes it difficult for offensive players to run through him, which made him a solid piece for Hankwitz to use in the run defense game.
In typical Spivs fashion, he improved in the 2020 season, earning new personal bests in sacks at 1.5 and tackles with 14 on the season. But his contributions at NU haven’t just been limited to the playing field. When he’s not busy on the gridiron, Spivak is a compassionate member of the community, running Northwestern’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes, an organization that helps raise awareness of rare diseases and funds to fight them. Indeed, Spivak’s passion and pride may be just as evident off the field as it is on it.
There could not have been a more perfect player on the Northwestern roster to dawn the No. 1 this season, as Joe Spivak displays all of the intangible traits that represent the best of Northwestern’s football program. Expect Spivak to bring the juice and the spirit of No. 1 to the gridiron in 2021 with a long season ahead of NU.