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Northwestern football final fall camp presser notes

David Braun and players speak about the ongoing quarterback competition and more.

@NUFBFamily on Twitter.

With only 10 days remaining until Northwestern football kicks off its 2023 season, the Wildcats hosted their third and final media availability on Wednesday following a closed practice. Here’s all of what interim head coach David Braun, running back Cam Porter, wide receiver Cam Johnson and defensive lineman Sean McLaughlin had to say.

Interim head coach David Braun

Opening statement: “The heat was good for us today. We certainly needed it as we’re preparing for Sept. 3. Really excited about where this team is at right now. Certainly still have a long way to go, but you can tell that this group is really starting to enjoy finding a rhythm and a routine. We just completed what should have felt like a Tuesday of a week we prep. We’ll go into our Wednesday routine tomorrow, Thursday routine on Friday. Really just get into a progression moving forward.

“Excited about an opportunity for a mock game for our team over at Ryan Field this Saturday — another opportunity to get out on that natural surface and get into a rhythm, routine for a coaching staff with a lot of guys on it that, this was the first time that they’re embarking on a season at Northwestern. It’ll be a great opportunity for me to get into that rhythm and routine when we return home on Sept. 9.

“Certainly a long way to go for this football team still, but excited to be in rhythm and routine. Excited to be focused on Rutgers, and truly believe that we got a locker room that is poised to have a have a great start to the season.”

On if he’s decided on a starting quarterback: “We’ve had talks internally, and we’re really excited about the competition in that room and the depth in that room. But some of those decisions that we’ve made, we’re we’re choosing to keep keeping in-house at this time.”

Elaborating on the quarterback competition: “There’s multiple guys that are still getting a ton of reps. Ben Bryant’s taking a significant amount of reps. Brendan Sullivan’s taking a significant amount of reps. We’re going to find ways to involve Jack Lausch in a lot of different ways with our football team. As we look at the entire roster, you look at Jack and you go, ‘How can we not consider this guy one of our top athletes, one of our top football players?’ We’ve got to find a way to get him involved.

“I’ll speak to Ryan Hilinski as well. Ryan is doing an incredible job. Right now, in terms of the majority of the reps, Ben Bryant and Brendan Sullivan are taking majority of those reps at the quarterback position. Excited about the depth in that room right now.”

On if he’ll pivot from a starting quarterback in-game: “That’ll be a conversation that Coach Bajakian and I continue to work through. This team does need a starting quarterback. They need one individual; that’s our starter. If there’s other ways to utilize our skillsets within that room, then let’s tap into that. But, we need someone that’s our starting quarterback. Entire locker room’s behind that individual, and we’re ready to embark on an entire season with that guy as our starter.”

On how he views the nature of the competition: “It’s a great problem to have. If people want to speculate, or there’s information that starts to get out there about what the anticipated starter is, those are things that you can’t always perfectly control. But, at the same time, as coaches, we’re in a business of collecting information. Right now, I don’t feel like it’s necessarily my job to come out and openly broadcast what our exact plan is at that position.”

On determining captains and the recipient of the No. 1 jersey: “We will name captains; we’ll be doing that very soon. Something that’s been really important to our leadership and myself is, just this team, the way that they’ve galvanized, the way that they’ve embarked on the month of July and the month of August. Intentionally, we’ve taken some time to work through that process and really see not just who’s leading on Day One or Day Four, but who’s leading as we go through the dog days of camp. I know that there’s gonna be a lot of young men on this roster that gets significant amount of votes. The leadership on this team is strong.”

On recent statements from former Northwestern student-athletes that have been released: “Our former football players here have been incredible with their attendance at practice, reaching out to our players and just showing unwavering support for young men that are going through what they went through — what it feels like to be a student-athlete at Northwestern. It takes takes a special person to embark on that. The requirements from an education standpoint, playing Big Ten football, the quarter system. I mean, there’s such a unique experience. It’s been really neat for me since I got here in January, to get to know a lot of the alumni and share with them what their experiences have been. We’re doing everything in our power to make sure that the experiences this group of young men has is very similar to to what they had.

“In terms of some of the things out there in regards to statements, I’ll tell you exactly what I told our team today after practice. That stuff is in the rearview. I mean, we’re on to Rutgers. We’re looking through the windshield; it’s time for us to look straight ahead. That road right now points to points to New Jersey, and that’s where our focus is at right now.”

On if alumni have spoken to the team: “I’ll keep those conversations private. What I will say is, our staff has been very intentional about making sure that our football team feels supported by that group. It’s one thing through words and text, but our alumni’s presence at practice is something that we’ve really, really appreciated. We need their presence at games; we need their presence after great games, after tough losses, whatever it may be. But they have been unwavering in their support for our student-athletes — which is something myself and the rest of the staff really appreciate.”

On deciding to practice outside: “At times to me, it seems like it’s quite a bit of calculus and things that I’m not trained to go into. But John Mucovich, our head AT; Dr. Mjaanes [Director of Intercollegiate and Health Service Sports Medicine and Head Team Physician], We have conversations about that, not only today, but we had conversations yesterday. How we’re gonna progress; how we’re going to find water breaks in between practice that are certain amount of times. Our guys sponging down; cold towels; water; freeze pops. I mean, there is a method to all of it, and myself and John are in constant communication as we navigate practice.

“The indoor that we have here is incredible. We’ll continue to utilize it in scenarios where the weather is not gonna allow us to get done what we need to get done. If we’re anticipating, good weather for our game, and there’s poor weather outside, well, let’s practice in a controlled environment. But, we can anticipate heat at Rutgers; we can anticipate heat at Duke — all things that we haven’t experienced very much of as we run through fall camp just because of the mild weather due to the lake. Today was a critical piece for our football team’s preparation to get in that heat, keep get in that humidity and really start to prepare for what it’s going to feel like on game day.

“About a week ago, there was a very windy day that was not ideal for us to be in. To be honest with you, at times practice seemed like it was, some may consider a waste of time in terms of, special teams and the ball blowing all over the place. But, we all remember the conditions that we dealt with against Ohio State at home this past season. We have to prepare to win games on Saturday in the fall in the Big Ten. Any opportunity that we have to be in elements, if we’re expecting to play in those elements at some point, we’re going to take full advantage of.”

On becoming acclimated over the last few months: “If you would have told me back in December that this was the story I would have, I would have laughed and thought you were crazy. It has been a whirlwind. It’s been surreal in a lot of ways. But what I can tell you is I’m navigating it with faith, I’m navigating it with prayer, navigating with incredible people. That starts with my wife Kristin and our our three kids at home. They’ve been incredible supports. My mom and dad are an hour and 15 minutes away; they’ve been incredible supports. Kristin’s mom and dad are in town right now helping with the kids. The staff, the coaches, the support staff, alumni, people in the community. I mean, my wife and I have been blown away with the character of people that are associated with Northwestern, with Northwestern Athletics, the surrounding community. We’ve it done with faith, prayer and incredible people.

“I’m just really excited to see this team. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m so excited for this team to have an opportunity to go right write their own story. One thing I’m very confident in is when they look back on on the way that they’ve navigated this, they’re gonna be really proud of the way they handled themselves.”

On the creation of position groups’ unique decals: “Being very honest with you: I’m not sure. All I know is our equipment staff was having fun with the guys, and our guys were fired up about having an opportunity to wear those to fall camp. There’s been some competitive banter. I think some of those logos on the helmet have played into that, which is exactly what you want in fall camp.”

On Sean McLaughlin: “I think it was just some street cred, to be honest with you. I mean, I’m really excited about that group. Sean’s been there, done that in the Big Ten, at a high level. He’s playing his best football right now, which only helps, right? I think Sean would be the first one to tell you that his production last year and the way they played towards the end of the year, he wants more. Not that it was bad, but he wants more. We all want more. He’s done an incredible job of setting the tone within that room. It’s been really fun to see.”

On managing emotions entering the opener: “I think comes back to what we talked about a few minutes ago: just keeping our focus through the windshield and off the rearview mirror; what we can do to continue to build our preparation that creates confidence. I just talked to our team a few minutes ago about, there’s no doubt in my mind that this team is worthy — the character, the resolve, the resiliency — that this team is worthy of doing something great. But now, we have to build confidence. How do you build confidence? Not through saying you’re going to do something. It’s not through others telling you you’re going to do great or all those times you can’t do it, and having this big chip on your shoulder. You create confidence by actually preparing to win, and taking the proper steps to do that.

“This program has done that at a high level, especially when the odds have been against them in the past. I fully anticipate that we’ll do that again this year. But today was a start to that. Our guys just pushed through some heat. It’s Rutgers prep, a ton of scout looks. It was ugly at times; far from perfect, but our guys created some confidence today of pushing through hot, humid, limited numbers with scouts. It was a great opportunity for us to start that process.”

On when he knew this team was “worthy” of succeeding: “It happened the way that they responded in July. They continued to show up, and then they chose to stay. The way that they show up every day. This group is worthy of success. Now, it’s time for us to go create confidence through our preparation.”

On the leadership of McLaughlin and Cam Porter: “It’s a huge part of it. Again, it comes back to just that street credibility. They’ve done it. When those guys speak, people listen. And neither Sean or Cam overdo it, but when they chime in, people are listen. What’s the definition of good leadership? People follow. People follow Sean and Cam, that’s for sure.”

On team morale this late into camp: “It’s been incredible, but it would be what you would anticipate any fall camp just from the standpoint of, ‘Oh, we’re in the thick of it.’ Now that we’re into Rutgers prep, you can start to see a bounce in the guys’ step in terms of having a target on someone else, other than competing against your own teammates. Our guys have responded. We’ve really pushed this group, and they’ve responded well. The morale that you sense in this team meeting room, and position meetings as guys are coming and going from the facility, it’s not a bunch of talk. This group cares about one another deeply, and is really excited about what’s ahead.”

RB Cam Porter, WR Cam Johnson, DL Sean McLaughlin

On new faces in the defensive line room (McLaughlin): “All those guys, they’re characters. We had an interesting group already, but those guys definitely have added some serious characters in the room in the best way possible. I think the D-line has grown tremendously as we have gone over spring ball, over camp, across everything. I think we’ve done a really good job trying to get better; learn from each other, especially knowing those guys have played a lot of football. They’re all older, have a lot of experience, so we’re trying to learn everything that we can from them and trying to echo that down to the young guys as well.”

On interacting with former players at practice (Porter): “It’s been awesome. Since my freshman year, since I’ve been here, former players always come back. They enjoy coming back. They enjoy giving us knowledge, because they’ve been in our shoes. I mean, they’ve experienced what we’ve experienced. It’s been great to talk to some of the alums and just catch up with how everything is going. So, it’s been good.”

On if alumni messaging has changed in light of controversy (Porter): “It really hasn’t changed at all. They’re just supportive of us, supportive of the daily grind that we go through as student-athletes. They just continue to lift us up, because we got a big season ahead.”

On Johnson’s sixth fall camp and the receiver corps: “For one, Coach Binns has been awesome. I think that he’s taught me a lot of new things. As a sixth-year guy, you might have the attitude that you’ve got it all figured out, but I think if you come in ready to learn every day, that Coach Binns is gonna be able to really make you a complete receiver. We’ve got a ton of depth in the wide receiver room. So it’s been a competitive fall camp, and it’s going to be to be competitive all year. I think there’ll be a lot of guys that’ll make some big plays for us this year.”

On Braun’s transition (McLaughlin): “Coach Braun has been a tremendous asset for us. Coming in during spring ball, really opened up our eyes to how we can play really good defense, playing together and doing everything we need to do to be successful defensive in the Big Ten, and even in the country. As he’s transitioning to head coach, he’s still been primarily our defensive coordinator. It’s been really nice to see how he’s progressed and really handled the changes as we’ve gone along this course.”

On goals for 2023 (McLaughlin): “Obviously, the goal is to be the best we possibly can be. We have a lot to learn from going off last year’s tape, and what we need to not do again and what we could do better. I think that’s going to help with a lot of guys that we have in the room. We took it on our shoulders to try and be the best position group in the team. I think we’ve done a really good job trying to get better. We’ve just got to keep stacking days and put all this stuff together. As we go throughout this course of the season, I think it’ll be really good for us to see how well we stack up against some of the other better defenses in the Big Ten. I think just gotta keep going.”

On facing coaching changes in different programs (Johnson): “This is actually my third coaching change. I think for me, it’s just sort of understanding that I’ve been through a coaching change before, things like that, and sort of just being there for the guys who maybe this is their first time. Just trying to make sure that we’re focused on the first game, because I think that’s been our message the whole time. We’re here to play football, and that we’re going to have a successful season. Just making sure that the young guys would understand that, and guys who need help, I’m there for.”

On Lausch’s abilities (Porter): “Like Coach said, he’s a heck of an athlete. Finding different ways we’re going to use him is going to be very big for our offense, for our team as well. He’s also a great leader on and off the field. Coach is 100% right. He’s a dynamic athlete that can definitely change the game.”

On his role for 2023 (Porter): “It’s a blessing to be in the role that I’m in right now. But to be honest with you, nothing changes. I’ve prepared the same way since the beginning. I take this game very serious, and it means a lot to me. I think trying to change things could try to cause you to be something you’re not. I’m just gonna continue to try to stay consistent. Just keep being who I am.”

On the team being “worthy” of success (McLaughlin): “I think we’ve put in a lot of work over the course of the offseason, starting from the winter, going through all that grind, and then coming out through the summer. I think we put in a lot of work, and we’ve just got to play to the best of our abilities and have confidence and conviction with what we do. I know a lot of guys believe that we’re going to have success, but we’ve got to act on it and go out there and play like it.”

On handling their feelings heading into Week One at Rutgers (McLaughlin): “I think first-game jitters are always a common thing. We’re going into a hostile environment in New Jersey, I think that was going to not going to change regardless of anything that happened. I think we’re out there, going to try and play the best of our abilities, and go out there and try and get a W. I think that hasn’t changed since the minute we stepped on campus in Jan. 1 after the season ended last year. That’s our goal is to go out there and win. I think that’s what we’re going to try and do.”

On why they stayed at Northwestern (order of McLaughlin, Porter, Johnson): “The guys in the locker room, without a doubt. Those guys have been there from the minute I stepped on campus my freshman year. I don’t know what I would do with some of those guys that I’ve formed relationships with, from guys that have graduated beyond some of the older D-lineman — Joe Spivak, Trevor Kent — they’ve taught me some serious things that you can’t take away from any other place. I think the guys in the locker room have made this place special. It’s been that way for a while. I think. I just started to get to know Cam [Johnson], but Cam Porter has been with me over the course of this, navigating COVID and everything along those lines. Formed bonds that will last forever, I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why I stayed. I don’t know how they feel but that’s how I feel.”

“I think for me, just having gone through something like this before. The guys in the room, in the whole football support staff, everybody. The way that we all had conviction that we’re going to get through this together, we’re going to make this a successful season regardless. That was something that I hadn’t seen in other schools. Sometimes whenever you go through the coaching changes, people splintering and off things like that. Just to echo what he said, I think that for any team I’ve been on in my six years, this team is as close as as any I’ve been a part of. For me it, was a no-brainer to stay and be with these guys and just enjoy my last year.”

“I think Cam kind of hit the nail on the head. It was kind of a no-brainer. Like Shawn said as well, we came together. We made a decision that we’re gonna make this a special season. We’re gonna come together and we’re gonna fight. We’re gonna try to win football games for this university.”

On working with Bryant and Sullivan (Johnson): “I think that we have a lot of talent and depth in our quarterback room, top to bottom. I think both of them I have a really good relationship with. Sully was the person that was my official visit host, so we’ve been close from that moment. Ben’s gotten here and done an enormous job of getting closer with the guys, spending time with us, making sure we’re all working. I think that no matter who we go with on Sept. 3, that we’re going to be in good hands and that he’s going to be making great plays for the team.”

On utilizing their experience with earlier success (Porter, then McLaughlin): “I mean, me and Sean were blessed to be a part of that 2020 team. I think the biggest thing with being a part of that is you know what it takes. You’ve been there before. You’ve been under leadership that has taken us to that place. So now that we’re leaders, we know and understand what it’s going to take. It’s gonna take a lot of sacrifice, a lot of hard work. Those experiences are just going to help us this season, help carry us to our goals.”

“Being a part of that team, we were surrounded by a lot of great leaders. Kind of the same way, COVID kind of brought us even closer together. Everything that happened so far, we’ve gotten closer. I think we’ve got to come together even more if we’re gonna have a successful season. I think we all have done that so far, and we’ve just go to put it into action, and get back to where we want to be.”