RB Jason Wright

2002 Statistics

Coach: Randy Walker
18-28, 4 years
2002 Record: 3-9
at Air Force LOST 3-52
TCU LOST 24-48
DUKE WON 26-21
at Navy WON 49-40
at Michigan State LOST 24-39
at Minnesota LOST 42-45
at Penn State LOST 0-49
at Iowa LOST 10-62

2002 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2003 Outlook

The Wildcats showed flashes of potential in 2002. At the offensive skill positions, the Wildcats have talent with Wright and Basanez. But on defense, Northwestern's inability to stop the run turned every game into a slugfest that the 'Cats were usually destined to lose. The image of the Big Ten as a "three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust" conference is outdated, but most opposing coaches were more than happy to run it up the Wildcats' gut until they showed any ability to make the stops, which they rarely did.

For Northwestern to get back into the neighborhood of .500 or above this season, both lines will have to play dramatically better - and we see no reason this won't happen. Anything will be an improvement.

The 2002 program was also hampered by the death of safety Rashidi Wheeler during an off season workout. Wheeler was a team leader. The controversy that followed left a cloud hanging over the team all season. Walker had to defend his program against charges of being over-demanding and employing drill-sergeant-like conditioning techniques. While nobody in the program used the situation as an excuse, it didn't helped the concentration of a young, untested team.

Being able to avoid such distractions will be key this season. Walker attempts (yet again) to resuscitate the Wildcats from the Big Ten dungeon. It'll be a heck of a challenge and most observers (including us) are pretty skeptical about his chances of doing it. But Walker (like his predecessor Gary Barnett) has established that it's possible, without warning, to be competitive at Northwestern - which for 30 years was a far-fetched notion.

There's some churning going on at the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Indiana and Michigan State are retooling (new coaching regimes), and each teams' roster has been thinned out by transfers and other defections. So as it's likely to take both teams a season or so to get back on track, the Wildcat's opportunity gives themselves no one else to blame in 2003.

With most of its starting lineup back, a boat load of depth and a somewhat favorable non-conference schedule, Northwestern should leapfrog both of those teams and get out of the basement of the Big Ten. Anything more than that - reaching .500 or qualifying for a bowl game - will be unexpected for the Wildcats this season.

Projected 2003 record: 4-8
DE Loren Howard
QB Brett Basanez
DE Loren Howard
QB Alexander Webb
QB - 3.5 DL - 1.5
RB - 4 LB - 2.5
WR - 3.5 DB - 3.5
OL - 2 ..

Passing: Brett Basanez, 325-190-7, 2204 yds., 7 TD

Rushing: Jason Wright, 219 att., 1234 yds., 12 TD

Receiving: Kunle Patrick, 49 rec., 558 yds., 2 TD

Scoring: Jason Wright, 13 TD, 78 pts.

Punting: Brian Huffman, 66 punts, 41.5 avg.

Kicking: Brian Huffman, 0-1 FG, 4-4 PAT, 4 pts.

Tackles: Doug Szymul, 106 tot., 47 solo

Sacks: Loren Howard, 13.5 sacks

Interceptions: Torri Stuckey, 1 for 16 yds.

Kickoff returns: Jason Wright, 18 ret., 28.5 avg.

Punt returns: Kunle Patrick, 19 ret., 7.5 avg.


OFFENSE: Jon Schweighardt-WR, Jeff Roehl-OG, Austin King-C, David Wasielewski-K
DEFENSE: Raheem Covington-CB, Mark Roush-S, Vince Cartaya-MLB, Matt Anderson-DT

By Joe Howley
Royal Oak, Mich.

Coach Randy Walker has stuck with the single-back, spread offense since arriving at Evanston, and there's no indication of change in 2003. The Wildcats do return several promising performers at the skill positions.

The running back position in the spread offense usually requires a durable, big-back type with pass-catching and blocking abilities. Senior Jason Wright certainly fits the bill. He is backed by junior Noah Herron, who also brings needed muscle into the backfield with his 230-pound frame.

The Wildcats were actually respectable on offense in 2002. Brett Basanez made quite a splash as one of the best freshman quarterbacks. He will improve on his 2,202 passing yards and seven TDs.

The spread demands a deep crew of receivers, and the leading pass-catcher from 2002 (Jon Schweighardt) has been lost to graduation. But seniors Kunle Patrick and Roger Jordan are returning starters, while young Mark Philmore received some quality action as a freshman. Philmore posted the second-best reception total (31 receptions) by a true freshman at Northwestern. Throw a few others in the mix (such as Ashton Aikens), and this gives coaches seven receivers with considerable experience at wideout in the 'Cats spread offense.

A position that continues to be a work-in-progress for the Wildcats is tight end. Sophomores Joe Wohlscheid and Taylor Jones return to this position after getting their feet wet in 2002. The biggest off-season move on offense, however, involves senior Ray Bogenrief, who is moving from defense to offense. The former defensive end was an all-state tight end in high school, so…

Perhaps the Wildcats' biggest offensive question rests in the trenches-who will replace center Austin King and guard Jeff Roehl, a pair of All-Big Ten honorees that have been mainstays on the OL the past three years? Soph Zach Strief and junior Trai Essex finished 2002 starting at tackle. Essex, who played the left side last season, needs to hit 300 pounds during the off-season to give the Wildcat line a little more muscle and/or bulk. Returning starter Matt Ulrich is emerging as a top player. He had as many championship performances last year as anyone while playing the guard position.

Walker's spread offense depends on giving 1) the QB time to throw and 2) the RBs open lanes in which to cut. Two starters are gone from the offensive line and Walker spent much of the spring trying to put together an improved blocking combination. We will see about this and report back. But until proven, this is considered a weakness.


WR Kunle Patrick


Returning Starters in bold
QB Brett Basanez-So (6-2, 200) Alexander Webb-Fr (6-0, 195)
RB Jason Wright-Sr (5-10, 210) Noah Herron-Jr (5-11, 230)
WR Kunle Patrick-Sr (6-0, 205) Jonathan Fields-So (5-9, 170)
WR Ashton Aikens-Jr (6-2, 200) Roger Jordan-Sr (6-3, 215)
WR Mark Philmore-So (5-10, 175) Brandon Horn-So (6-1, 210)
TE Ray Bogenrief-Sr (6-3, 260) Sean Mansfield-So (6-3, 235)
OT Trai Essex-Jr (6-4, 280) Bill Newton-Jr (6-7, 310)
OG Greg Lutzen-So (6-4, 270) Joe Tripodi-Fr (6-3, 290)
C Matt Ulrich-Jr (6-2, 305) Jim Devine-Fr (6-2, 280)
OG Ikechuku Ndukwe-Jr (6-5, 325) Donnie Baskin-Jr (6-2, 295)
OT Zach Strief-So (6-7, 335) Rick McDole-Fr (6-6, 320)
K Slade Larscheid-Fr (6-1, 185) Joel Howells-Fr (6-4, 200)



By Joe Howley
Royal Oak, Mich.

If there was any place on defense where the Wildcats were at least decent last year, it was the secondary. The Wildcats were middle-of-the-pack in the Big Ten pass defense statistics, but mainly because opponents could run with such ease they rarely needed to throw much. Northwestern did, and still does, have some talent in the defensive backfield.

At the safety positions, junior Dominique Price returns, along with senior Torri Stuckey and junior Jarvis Adams. Price played in 10 games last year and notched 68 tackles and three fumble recoveries. His physical presence is a must in the secondary. Adams missed the spring season with an injury after starting much of 2002. In a move to bolster the Wildcats' defense, and in particular the secondary, sophomore Jeff Backes is going to get an opportunity to play cornerback. The former running back and wide receiver could still move back to offense at any time, but Walker says Backes is too good an athlete to be playing on a part-time basis. Junior corner Herschel Henderson, at 6-3 and 195, has the size necessary to cover some of the conference's rangier wide-outs. The Wildcat secondary has decent speed and tackling ability, but too often is put in fire-drill situations due to breakdowns up front.

At defensive end(s), Loren Howard (13.5 sacks) and David Thompson started last season as freshmen. Thompson, at 6-2, 255, was at a considerable size disadvantage against almost every opponent and still had 73 tackles and two forced fumbles. Experience, coupled with their ample progress, will make this position a strength, at least for these starters. Other incumbents have been battling for Thompson's spot all spring. Howard is the bright spot and will be a likely candidate for post-season conference awards.

The Wildcats were awful on the defensive side of the ball in 2002. Only three starters were lost to graduation, but after last season's debacle - which saw opponents average a blood-curdling 41.1 points and 502.3 yards per game against the Wildcats- it's safe to say that most starting spots are open for competition. They should have improved with age - they'd better have, or this team is in trouble before the season starts.

The line was the starting place for Northwestern's defensive headaches. The 'Cats gave up an appalling 313.6 rushing yards per game, and that will be cut, but how much remains questionable. Walker stacked the box at times last year, but almost every Big Ten opponent had one or more deep threat(s), which made this tactic a liability. Junior DTs Luis Castillo and Colby Clark will easily fill their slots, yet struggle to dominate week-to-week.

Northwestern had the dual blessing and curse in 2002 of starting a pair of freshman OLBs. Tim McGarrigle at the WILL and Braden Jones at the SAM got a baptism by fire during Big Ten action. Both will be "on the spot" to show improvement so as to stay in the starting lineup. Senior Doug Szymul saw plenty of action, which culminated in his team leading 106 tackles. He now has company. The most significant news at this position is the anticipated return of All-Big Ten candidate Pat Durr, the Wildcats' middle linebacker who missed all but six plays of the 2002 season. Durr suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opening minutes of the Air Force game. He will sit out the spring season as he completes his rehabilitation.


MLB Pat Durr


Returning Starters in bold
DE Barry Cofield-So (6-4, 280) David Thompson-So (6-2, 255)
DT Luis Castillo-Jr (6-4, 290) David Ngene-Fr (6-3, 255)
DT Colby Clark-Jr (6-2, 285) Ron Bardwell-Fr (6-3, 310)
DE Loren Howard-So (6-4, 270) Ryan Keenan-Fr (6-4, 260)
SLB John Pickens-Jr (6-2, 235) Braden Jones-So (6-2, 230)
MLB Pat Durr-Sr (6-1, 235) Doug Szymul-Sr (6-0, 220)
WLB Tim McGarigle-So (6-1, 215) Eric VanderHorst-So (6-2, 240)
CB Marquice Cole-So (5-9, 175) Sundi Brewer-Griffin-So (6-0, 195)
CB Jeff Backes-So (5-9, 190) Herschel Henderson-Jr (6-3, 195)
S Dominique Price-Jr (6-0, 205) Bryan Heinz-Fr (6-0, 185)
S Jarvis Adams-Jr (5-10, 210) Torri Stuckey-Sr (5-11, 205)
P Brian Huffman-Jr (6-1, 220) Ryan Pederson-So (6-3, 215)




Punter Brian Huffman is back for his junior season. Huffman averaged 41.5 yards per punt last season and will be a definite plus. Returning returners Backes and Wright will pick up where they left off, while Patrick (7.5 yards per return) and Philmore will equally excel in bringing back punts. Wright has the explosiveness needed from a returner, but opponents know this, too, and are reluctant to kick it his way. The Wildcats need to replace graduated kicker David Wasielewski. Huffman, who handled kickoffs last year, will get a shot at placement duties, but look for a few new freshman faces to battle for the job.


There may be a two QB system in use this fall as both Basanez and Webb have performed well. Webb has shown the better feet, while Basanez has delivered a slightly better arm. Walker said it is the best QB situation he has seen since arriving in Evanston and spoke admiringly of the dual QB system… Like a few others this spring (such as UVa's Marques Hagans and Kentucky's Shane Boyd), sophomore Derell Jenkins has made a switch from QB to RB/WR. Coach Walker likes his versatility and maneuverability and feels those traits can bring added volatility to this offense… There has been some concern on the offensive line. Injuries did not allow NU to do what they wanted with this group, leaving questions along the starting front. Depth was also a concern. Carl Matejka has left the team, after reportedly "losing desire" to play the game. Matt Ulrich has been switched over to play Center, but Walker has teased with the notion that true freshman Trevor Rees might start in the middle. He is already being compared to Austin King and could very well be the next four-year starter at that position. Trai Essex was not where he needed to be this spring, taking some time out to put more focus on academics… A recruit to watch for at WR is Sam Cheatham, who Walker likens to former Wildcat star Sam Simmons.

The defense, collectively, had six sacks all last year- they had EIGHT in the spring game alone. This, plus much needed improvement against the run gives Wildcat coaches a lot of defensive optimism for 2003. Overall, the defense graded fairly well this spring… Sophomore DE Barry Cofield had a solid spring and has earned himself the starting spot at DE opposite Howard… CB Jeff Backes has turned in exciting performances at CB and has given coaches reason to believe they made a wise move, switching him over from RB/WR. But, with this year's multi-dimensional promises such as Eric McGoey (Illinois), DeAngelo Hall (VA Tech), and others, don't be surprised to see him involved in some third down plays on offense… The secondary was an area of strength this spring, with commendable play coming from the corners. We can expect to see a 3-3-5 look from the defense at times this fall, with an extra safety playing near the linebackers and easily ready to defend the pass.

Kicking was not impressive in the spring and the job is still (and may be all throughout the season) up for grabs. Howells seemed to have more range than Larscheid. Derell Jenkins has been the most impressive punt returner this spring and will likely be the man this fall. Backes and Wright give them one of the top kick return tandems in the nation.