Heartbroken and filled with emotion, Kain Colter stood before the assembled media in Houston after his team's Texas Bowl loss. A promising season ended in disappointment. He vowed to lead, forecasting different results.
"I feel like we need everybody to buy into this program—from top to bottom," he said then. "Whether it's offense or defense. Once we do that, we will be a lot better."
One year ago, Northwestern fell and struggled to get up. The message of 'flush it' was not received. The losses mounted and the season turned sour.
The Wildcats left Houston with a rejuvenated spirit. The team went to work while building chemistry off the field. The new season was going to be different, promised the team's leadership.
Inside the locker room, there are characters and personalities—not just teammates.
"Only we know what we put in day in and day out throughout the season and in the offseason," Colter said following Saturday's victory. "That really forms a brotherhood among us."
This season, Northwestern was knocked down, but managed to bounce back. Its first loss hurt—a meltdown at Penn State. Yet, one week later, it grinded out a victory in Minnesota. A valiant comeback pushed Nebraska on top. It was a gut-wrenching game that was once in the Wildcats' hands. Still, they moved forward to the next challenge and booted Iowa the next Saturday.
The scarring Hail Mary from Devin Gardner to Roy Roundtree, leading a miraculous Michigan comeback, could have been the knockout blow of Northwestern. Its goal of winning the Legends Division became unattainable.
A dose of harsh reality had been injected to the Wildcats, proving the program isn't quite there just yet. Coach Pat Fitzgerald promised his program would trek forward.
It was too fitting that one week later, a defensive stand in the fourth quarter propelled Northwestern past Michigan State. Once again, the Wildcats rallied back when shoved down.
When faced with adversity, it first takes a common belief to be resilient. The Cats proved they have that.
Following the regular season's final whistle, the team gathered to sing "Go U Northwestern" and celebrate its ninth victory -- the final one at Ryan Field for its senior leadership. There were hugs and tears shared throughout the scene.
"I couldn't ask for a better group of guys to do it around," added captain Brian Arnfelt. "I am just really thankful."
Colter, speaking after the game, pointed to fellow captain David Nwabuisi—who hosted his official visit—as one of many close connections. The quarterback stated he played hard for Nwabuisi and the other departing seniors.
"This year's class is the closest that I've been with," the quarterback said.
Such special locker-room chemistry which fueled Northwestern's fight each week.