Former scout team members earn their shot

It takes hard work and tremendous patience to be a member of the scout team. For a number of Northwestern redshirt freshman, the hard work during their first year has paid off with a great prize, the chance to play.

With eleven starting defenders lined against him, true freshman Nick VanHoose called out an unfamiliar play to his teammate then lined up in the shotgun formation.

It was days before Northwestern's game with Michigan and VanHoose, a first-year cornerback, was asked to simulate Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson, as a member of Northwestern's scout team.

VanHoose was a fish out of water, but his job required him to simulate Robinson -- exact steps and throwing motion -- to the best of his abilities. His performance merited no immediate personal reward, aside from a pat on the pack from his coaches. That's not what the scout team is about.

"I was just doing my role," said VanHoose. "They needed me to run scout. I was just doing what's best for the team and what needed to be done."

As a member of the scout team, one must do their best to simulate the opposition's plays, proper assignment, and basic techniques. The roles change each week as the starters prepare for their next opponent.

For a true freshman, being a member of the scout team isn't anything you dream of, but it's all a part of helping the team.

"It's tough to be there because of the role," said Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "You want to come in and start, play, be in the stadium playing and get your name called."

However, it's not a role to dwell on for the members of Northwestern's scout team. Instead, it's something they take pride in.

"We had to give them a look as if they were playing against that (week's opposing) team," said redshirt freshman defensive end Deonte Gibson. "We had to rush off the ball hard, you've got to hit them a little harder than they would think. You've got to give the game effort for them so they'll be ready for the game."

During Gibson's time as a scout team defensive end, he learned from then-starting left tackle Al Netter, now of the San Francisco 49ers, who taught him various pass rushing moves. Gibson also used the year off to add some size in the weight room. He currently stands at 265 pounds.

Gibson stayed focused on the opportunity ahead during his second season with Northwestern. He understood it was just a role he had to embrace and use to the fullest.

"You've got to stay humble," said Gibson. "The coaches tell us you've got to play your dues. In due time, you'll get your shot."

Gibson is now in line for playing time at defensive end, and could even work himself into a starting role. He is not the only one; VanHoose is currently working as the starting cornerback. In fact, Fitzgerald admitted he was tempted to remove VanHoose's redshirt after growing impressed with his strong showing.

"Hindsight is 20-20, but I'm not sure he'd be where he is today without the experiences on the scout field," Fitzgerald said of VanHoose.

In addition, Matt Frazier is competing to be the Wildcats' first-string right guard. So are linebacker Drew Smith and cornerback Jarrell Williams.

As each former scout team star learned, the prize for a year of hard work is worth the wait.

"I feel like whole group of redshirt freshman," Fitzgerald said, "really improved throughout the course of the year."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs. He currently resides on Chicago's north side.
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