Niswander readies for Northwestern

With a strong leg and a close tie to the program, Woodridge High School senior Hunter Niswander is set to join the Wildcats in June. Though still unsure of his status as a kicker or punter, the Peninsula, Ohio native is a key member of one of Northwestern's most touted recruiting classes.

Hunter Niswander is ready to help take the Wildcats to the next level. At first glance, he's the wideout that will bolster Northwestern's passing game, standing at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds and continuing to work on daily weight training and speed conditioning this offseason.

Tee up a football, however, and you'll get it.

Kicking.com's top-ranked punting prospect of 2011 with a career-long field goal of 53 yards, Niswander landed a full-time scholarship in Feb. 2012 after being pursued by juggernauts like Alabama, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Originally catching the program's eye through Chicago-based special teams trainer Filip Filipovic, a friend of defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, Niswander represents Northwestern's efforts to run toe-to-to with college football's best.

"I'm just working on getting better so I can contribute to the team as much as possible," he said Monday. "The sky's the limit for us."

But what Niswander will be contributing remains to be seen. With seniors Jeff Budzien and Brandon Williams slated as the starting kicker and punter, Niswander will likely redshirt next season before gearing up to replace one or both of them in 2014.

"I don't want to say that I'm better at one thing," he said about his high school career as a kicker, punter and kickoff specialist. "I'd like to say I'm better at all three."

Niswander has developed a relationship with both seniors that hold down the starting spots he vies for. While Williams was his official tour guide on campus visits, he and Budzien have spoken frequently about expectations and life on the team.

"[Jeff's] a fantastic kicker and a role model to me," he said. "I see him as a guy who's been where I'd like to be, and I'm trying to get myself ready to do the same thing, if not better."

Like the Wisconsin native Budzien and Indiana-born Williams, Niswander claims he has a leg up on the competition from playing in the area.

"I think I have an advantage being from Ohio and kicking around the Midwest," he said. "I'm pretty used to the weather here and everything that goes along with it. The rain, sleet, snow ... I'm up for any challenges."

Regardless of where his leg will be used or how many reps he'll see this fall, Niswander is excited for the opportunity to officially join the Northwestern program. After receiving a personal Mother's Day card from head coach Pat Fitzgerald during his recruiting process, Niswander is set to report for his first practice session on June 16, Father's Day. It's a testament to the family aspect that drew Niswander's interest in the first place.

"My family will definitely be with me. Hopefully I'll treat my dad to a good Father's Day in Chicago," he laughed.

Yet when his parents leave and head back to Ohio, Niswander is confident that he will be in good hands. The chance to compete for Big Ten titles is enticing, he said, but being welcomed to an inclusive football community means even more.

"You don't always see teams having the chemistry that this team has," he said. "I think it starts from the coaches down."

Where those coaches will line him up in coming years is yet to be seen. But with towering potential at either position and an undoubted enthusiasm in donning purple, it shouldn't really matter.


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