Never the loud ones

Purple Wildcats continues its coverage from Big Ten Media Days.

The "national spotlight," whatever that means, barely focused on Northwestern.

It's like trying not to swear, though. You find yourself talking about changes in NU football and the unmatched confidence from players. Then the words just slip out.

No one wants the national spotlight, and really, you can count the number of people who care about preseason watch lists on one hand. NU fans try to justify the hype with two tablespoons of Phil Steele and variations of those overused words. (In a video today, I used "national spotlight" two minutes in and nearly threw up on myself.)

Two people grabbed national attention on Wednesday and Thursday: Urban Meyer and Tim Beckman. The former, on his way to eight straight Big Ten Championships, defended his reputation. The latter, who could be replaced by the time this event rolls around again, complained about the lack of "inherited depth" among other things that people generally laughed at.

It was at a quiet table this morning where Venric Mark so perfectly explained the opposite approach. He talked about being a role model.

Every undersized high school running back now mentions Mark as one. They watched him gain 1,366 yards at a listed 5-8, 175, and now think they can do the same.

Mark, when I mentioned this, took the question a different route. He talked about using his profile to positively influence others off the field.

"It means a lot to me that I can be someone's role model," he said. "That's what football is about. You see a lot of kids doing things they shouldn't do. If someone gives you great responsibility, that has to be taken care of.

"The spotlight is on you, and that's one thing Northwestern has taught me. I try my best to go about it, talk to different kids, maybe on the South Side of Chicago. I do everything I can to help kids understand that there is a life outside of what they're going through."

That will not make headlines. Fitzgerald's veiled comment that "discipline begins in recruiting" gained some traction, but otherwise, NU shied from attention. Amid so much NCAA and Big Ten controversy, those largely empty tables carried the most important weight.

Here's something that could–in another program–have caused a stir: The quarterback controversy. Imagine if Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian held an adversarial relationship and resented each other's success. With guys of less character, it could happen. But you can stare for hours and try to watch them break. They won't.

"Looking at the quarterback, they set the attitude and example for the team," Colter said. "When you see two guys being unselfish, it's going to trickle down to everywhere else. When the team asks you to split time… You do it because that's what the team needs."

These are the origins of NU's success. Media Days remind you of that, quickly. Talk about discipline. Talk about leadership. The first team that comes to mind in discussing these traits is–almost always–Northwestern.

In Chicago, Chicago's Big Ten Team goes somewhat unnoticed. Microphones surround the fiery Bo Pelini and Urban Meyer. We respect the Wildcats for the things that they aren't, but in talking to players, you end up seeing what they are.

The "national spotlight" discussion, again, is so unnecessary. Nothing's changed with Northwestern.

Always the example. Never the loud ones.


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