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Northwestern football looks to retool in key areas behind veteran QB, defensive line

Northwestern head football coach Page Wofford is confident about his team heading into spring practice.

The Trojans went 11-2 last season, finishing as undefeated region champions for a fourth-consecutive season and advancing to the third round of the playoffs.

And with a veteran quarterback, proven wide receivers and a top-notch defensive line returning, Wofford is ready for another stellar season.

“I feel good about it,” said Wofford, who is entering his sixth season. “We have a lot of returners in key positions. We have a few holes to fill, but we always seem to be able to find guys to do that.”

Two areas where Northwestern lost a lot are in the running back and wide receiver rooms, where a combined seven seniors totalled over 3,900 yards and 52 touchdowns from scrimmage last season.

Wofford isn’t too worried though. Two of the Trojans’ four leading receivers — junior Jayden Nichols with a team-leading 620 yards, and six touchdowns and sophomore Kameron Vance with 357 yards and seven touchdowns — are returning.

Juniors Daniel Caldwell (258 yards, four touchdowns) and Tadarrian Knox (196 yards, five touchdowns) are also coming back.

Filling in at running back, the Trojans have several younger players ready to take over at running back.

“We’ve got a number of guys coming in,” Wofford said. “Some returners, some guys that played JV, some guys that played ninth grade. We feel pretty good about those guys. There’s probably too many to mention right now, but they’ll all be given a shot.”

Where a lot of the confidence for Northwestern lies is in quarterback Finley Polk.

Polk is heading into his third year as the Trojans’ starter, passing for 6,159 yards and 75 touchdowns over the past two seasons.

Polk said that he’s not particularly worried about any added pressure heading into his senior season. He just hopes to continue to improve and keep winning.

“The expectation here always is to win,” Polk said. “Our motto is win today. We try and put it all on the field every single day, get 1% better. We did a good job of that the past couple of years, but we want to put a ring on it this year. That’s always the goal.”

Another area that Northwestern can rely on is its defensive front.

Each of the Trojans’ top six players in tackles and top seven in sacks from last season are back.

The junior defensive line front of Mason Grier, Danijay McMullen, Dmitri Putnam II and Andre Pickett combined for 56.5 tackles for loss and 24 sacks and is widely regarded as one of the best in the state.

While Wofford isn’t one to toot his own horn in that manner, he knows he has a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball.

“We have a lot of returners up front,” Wofford said. “Our front seven or eight guys are coming back, and we expect a lot from them. We have to fill some holes in the defensive backfield. Very seldom do teams have 22 returning starters. We feel like we’ve got guys that can fill those positions, and we trust our process and the way we do things, and we feel like we’re going to be able to put a good product on the field when it’s all said and done.”

Northwestern opens the 2024 season on the road against Hough (NC).