Gator Bowl ends Arnfelt's long road

The collegiate career of Northwestern defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt has seen battles for playing time, then a fight through injuries. However, he will cap off his fifth season with the Wildcats playing in the Gator Bowl. For Arnfelt, it completes a long fight, which has earned him plenty of respect.

Sitting before more than 30 media members in Jacksonville, Brian Arnfelt smiled politely as his fellow Northwestern senior captains fielded questions. Finally, his coach broke the silence.

"Arnie, do you have anything to share?" Pat Fitzgerald interjected, drawing laughter from the room.

The quiet defensive tackle has never been one to wear his emotions on his sleeves. However, when asked later about his sentiments entering his final game, Arnfelt opened up.

"It's going to be awesome," he said. "I really can't express how excited I am; not for me, personally, but for the program, to go to a New Year's Day bowl, play a great team like Mississippi State, and have fun. That's what the bowl season is all about; going out and having fun one last time."

Arnfelt played in just five games as a junior, battling a foot injury through the offseason then re-aggravating it midway through the campaign. He returned to start in the Texas Bowl. He then worked through the offseason, earning the role of captaincy from his teammates, and started each game of his senior season, recording 24 tackles and three sacks.

There was a palpable feeling of pride for Arnfelt, as his head coach and teammates offered plenty of praise.

"It's great to see Brian out here, being able to play," said senior linebacker David Nwabuisi. "He has been one of those guys that has had a really tough career. It has been really tough to watch him battle through it, but at the same time, it's been inspiring to watch him come back stronger and stronger every time from each injury."

Inside the Northwestern locker room, Arnfelt leads by example, but has garnered tremendous respect from his teammates.

"He's a passionate guy," said Nwabuisi. "One of the biggest guys on the team. He doesn't talk a ton, but whenever he does, he wants to be heard. He's a big guy and it's not hard to hear him. He gets his points across, plays hard, and backs up his words.

Arnfelt is eager to play his last game as a Wildcat, completing a full season of good health and fortunes. Of course, he wants a victory to celebrate with his teammates, too.

When Arnfelt was asked to summarize his feelings leading into the Gator Bowl, the team-first captain gave an unselfish answer, showing what makes him a special leader.

"I can't say it enough," he said, "how blessed this football team is to play week in and week out together with the cohesiveness we have all 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. He resides on Chicago's north side.
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