Wildcats Show Growth In Spring

Northwestern planted the seeds of a new season this spring. A number of Wildcats took advantage of the new opportunity to shine. As a new season nears, the Wildcats continue to grow as a team.

As a young, gleamy-eyed writer, one of my first assignments was to cover Nebraska spring practice. Naturally, I was thrilled for what I expected to be an exciting experience. It was college football!

I glanced over to a fellow scribe, with a gawky smile, and expressed my excitement to watch the Cornhuskers practice on that mid-March afternoon. He responded with a smile and said, "Spring practice isn't real football; it's pointless."

With the benefit of hindsight, I look back on that statement as being only partially factual.

Watching first-hand as Northwestern's spring game turned on Chance Carter's 17-point play -- courtesy of a scoring system which I still don't understand -- gave a little perspective to that journalist's point. However, seeing Carter emerge as a force at defensive tackle may change his thought.

The dictionary lists spring as "the season of growth or renewal." It's that which makes spring football special; not so much for the fans, but for the players.

Northwestern's defense entered the first practice in March with a bad taste in its mouth, after a disasterous 2011 campaign.

"They said at the start of the spring, 'we deserved (the negativity); we didn't play very well at times,'" said NU head coach Fitzgerald after the spring exhibition. "What are you going to do about it? How are you going to respond?"

The unit embraced the spring as a fresh start, and took full advantage of the opportunity. That was capped off in practice No. 15, the scrimmage, when the defense defeated the offense in Ryan Field.

As Carter entered the endzone, he was soon greeted by 40 teammates in the same colored jerseys. The defense had reason to celebrate.

For junior-to-be Kain Colter, the spring signified he is now "the guy" for Northwestern.

Colter took charge of the Wildcats' offense while guiding the younger players. It was his first grasp of a true leadership role. The spring was a new beginning for Colter.

"Now, it's just time to build on that, take over the leadership role, and try to bring these young guys along," said Colter.

No Wildcat was in need of a fresh start more than USC transfer Kyle Prater. Once the nation's top wide receiver prospect, Prater left USC to return closer to home, now just a short drive from Hillside, Ill.

Prater was greeted rudely when Jimmy Hall delivered a blindsiding blow to the newcomer. After heaving his breakfast on the Nicolet Center turf, Prater returned to the huddle, glad to be a Wildcat.

Prater built a foundation for a promising career in purple. Now, he hopes to build on the progress made this spring.

"I'm optimistic, I want to get better," Prater said. "I want to be more explosive, but at the same time, I feel great. I can say I'm where I want to be, but I want to get better. I'm never going to get complacent."

Spring practice came to a not-so-dramatic conclusion as the Wildcats participated in the 'dizzied hot dog-eating contest,' an odd relay race which consists of spinning around on baseball bats to get dizzied, then stuff down a number of hot dogs; something you're not likely to see after the Iowa game this fall.

Wildcat fans in attendance at Ryan Field left without the thrill of victory or anguish of defeat; just the fulfilling fact that a new season is near. Northwestern's seeds have been planted and the growth has begun.

Don't tell me spring practice is totally pointless.

Chris Emma has covered college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports since 2009. He covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs.
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