The countdown to the top 10 players in Northwestern football here at Inside NU is almost over. However, before revealing the Top 3 (as you all probably guessed), I wanted to shed a little light on some of the players who fell just outside the Final 10. , but these players gave it their all this past year and their performance deserves recognition.
With an offense as struggling as Northwestern (13.8 points per game), good punters are critical to giving the team a chance to have a defensive stand. UCLA transfer Luke Akers played this role with the Cats in his 2022 season, punting 45 times and averaging 41.0 yards per punt. He placed his 14 of those punts 20 yards within his line and pinned the opponent’s offense deep multiple times.
Akers’ best performance was, somewhat ironically, Northwestern’s only win of the season against Nebraska. He punted six times in that Week 0 showdown, and three times he fell within the 10-yard line. This performance contributed to the victory and assured Wildcat fans that punts would not be a problem for the foreseeable future, as the current junior is set to return for at least one more of his season.
The next honorable mention is also transferred, and a special teamer. Kicker Adam Stage came to Northwestern as a graduate from North Dakota, and on the field he went 7-9 on goals and his perfect 17-17 in PATs. He has accounted for nearly his one-quarter (23%) of the Wildcats’ points this season, including his two games (Minnesota and Illinois) in which he alone scored. .
Stages was also effective in the kickoff game, averaging 58.4 yards on 38 kicks and eight touchbacks. 2022 is the sixth season of college football on the stage, so it’s unlikely he’ll return to Northwestern University, but his contributions have been appreciated.
Moving onto the defensive end of the ball, DB Rod Heard has done an excellent job filling in a frequently injured secondary. He appeared in all 12 games for the Cats, recording a total of 67 tackles (47 solo), 1 sack, and 1 interception. The redshirt junior flew around the Northwestern field and in two games (Maryland and Illinois) he made 10 of his tackles. His performance this season has both AJ Hampton and Cam Mitchell leaving the program, giving him a chance to become a starter and should keep him in the rotation next season.
The final honorable mention goes to junior defensive lineman Sean McLaughlin. Playing in all 12 games, McLaughlin had a total of 31 tackles, four tackles in the loss, and a forced fumble. Against Maryland he stood out for his 8 tackles, but the highlight of the season was blocking a kick against Miami (OH). The Frankfort, Illinois native has an opportunity to make an impact next season as he’s one of the only defensive linemen currently on the roster.