'Cats Face Critical Summer

The summer is a critical time where teams come together and prepare for the upcoming season. When the players come together in the summer, NCAA rules keep coaches away from their teams. Pat Fitzgerald is turning to the Wildcats' leaders to get the team ready in the critical time.

"Summer time is the most important time for our football team," said NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "It's a time where our leadership is really challenged, and that's why we went to a leadership council a few years ago."

NCAA rules prohibited college coaches from participating in team drills during the summer. Instead, players—along with the help of strength and conditioning coaches and team trainers—run voluntary players-only drills in preparation of the season.

Fortunately for Fitzgerald and the Northwestern coaching staff, they can sleep easily knowing they have a veteran-laden team that knows how to handle the summer. The Wildcats return two co-captains—Dan Persa and Al Netter—and have 20 seniors on the roster.

As the weather gets hotter and summer officially begins, Fitzgerald is hoping the team will be ready both mentally and physically for the upcoming season.

"The chemistry and the attitude need to be formed right now when it's players-only," Fitzgerald said. "It's absolutely critical as to when you're going to come together at camp.

"I want to see them come back in great shape, I want to see them be competitive, and I want to see them prepared to go into a camp that's going to be the hardest camp they'll ever be a part of."

With a number of key players back in the mix, hopes are high for the 2011 edition of the Wildcats. According to Fitzgerald, the Wildcat players need to use the summer to prepare for a grueling camp in August.

"If our guys don't come in feeling in the best shape of their lives, they're going to fall off really quickly," Fitzgerald said. "We're going to hit the ground running faster than we ever have and dial the heat up."

The Wildcats will see a tough start to their season in non-conference play. They will open up the campaign in Chesnut Hill with a game against Boston College, then two weeks later, will travel to West Point to take on Army.

With a tough early season schedule, the Wildcats must have a strong summer camp and carry that over to the season. Hopes are higher in Evanston, and Pat Fitzgerald isn't looking to settle.

"No longer is it acceptable just to go to bowl games," Fitzgerald said. "We got out biggest challenger (Boston College) in the open that I've ever had as head coach. We understand the challenge that's ahead of us. The way we prepare is going to determine if we're ready."

Of course, when Fitzgerald says "we", he really means "they". Once Camp Kenosha comes around in August, Fitzgerald and the NU coaching staff will get a glance at what their team looks like.

"I get them in August and we better be ready to go," Fitzgerald said.

Other notes

Fitzgerald told PurpleWildcats.com about Dan Persa's recovery. When asked if Persa is at 100 percent, Fitzgerald said, "He's close, he's really close. Danny is doing great. It's a process. As he starts to do more, we'll evaluate where he's at. We're just going to take it day by day."

Summer school classes started on Monday, and Fitzgerald reported that 13 of the 17 incoming freshman are on campus.

Fitzgerald also talked about the Big Ten conference and the addition of Nebraska. He predicted, "The winner of our league is going to play for the national championship."

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