Competition pushing Wildcats in practice

Northwestern is three games into the season but position battles are heated like it's still the preseason. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has fostered competition at each position and the Wildcats are responding.

One thing was clear with Pat Fitzgerald after Northwestern's win against Boston College: almost none of the starting positions are secure. Fitz challenged his team Monday, asking who wanted to play; every hand went in the air.

So far in practice this week, Fitzgerald said the team has responded to the challenge.

"I think we have, and we'll make some decisions as we move forward throughout the week," he said.

Asked if that meant there might be some new starters on the field Saturday against South Dakota, the NU coach merely shrugged.

"I don't know, maybe," he said. "We'll see. Tomorrow's a big day, too."

Two of the spots where the competition is heaviest are in the backfield on offense and the secondary on defense. Nick VanHoose has mostly earned one starting cornerback spot, and Demetrius Dugar has started across him, but Quinn Evans and Daniel Jones have also seen time.

Dugar said the competition definitely motivates the secondary, but that they are a close-knit group, and aren't trying to "shoot somebody down."

"It's just motivation for everybody to bring their A game to practice every day and take it onto the field," Dugar said. "Our coach always talks about not just having four guys that can go out there to play but having eight, just so that we can make sure we're good."

Despite the assurance that it's a close group, Dugar said it can be tough to be on the sideline during the game watching others compete.

"It's bittersweet," he said. "A lot goes on in the game, everything isn't going to be perfect all the time. So if something bad happens and you kind of get pulled to the side, it's definitely a learning experience, but at the same time you want to be out there."

On the offensive side of the ball, the attitude is essentially the same. Venric Mark has been the go-to running back this season, but when Mark went down with an injury Saturday, he said he was happy to see Mike Trumpy succeed. Trumpy went for 107 yards and a touchdown.

"It feels great," he said of watching Trumpy. "You always want other backs that can pick up the flag, and that goes for every position. And I think that we have such a good two deep and one deep that we can do that."

Though he was happy to watch Trumpy play well from the sideline, Mark didn't shy away from saying it's still a competitive atmosphere.

"It's always going to be about competition," he said. "If I'm not performing well then I no longer become the starter. But I feel like I have been performing, but Mike Trumpy, the baton was given to him and he ran with it and he did great. And I'm happy he did that, that also helped us win and it's all about getting the W."

In the end, the competition is likely a good problem for Northwestern to have. Rather than searching for players to fill spots, the ‘Cats have groups of players who have proven they can handle the pressure in games.

That was the message quarterback Kain Colter –who is constantly competing for time with Trevor Siemian – had after the BC win.

"Everybody is in competition, everyone wants to play," Colter said. "So when one guy goes down, the other guy, he gets his opportunity to go in there and shine."

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