CHICAGO -- No team gets more out of its players than Northwestern.
No player is exempt from playing multiple positions, even the quarterbacks. Former all-Big Ten quarterback Dan Persa entered the game as a special teamer when backing up Mike Kafka. This year's quarterback Kain Colter successfully split time between quarterback and wide receiver last year.
Colter, a 6-foot junior, posted nearly 500 yards in three offensive categories last year. He started Northwestern's first three games at quarterback and three others at wide receiver. Colter completed 55-of-82 passes for 673 yards, six touchdowns and only one interception. He led the Wildcats in rushing with 654 yards and eight touchdowns. He caught 43 passes for 466 yards and three touchdowns.
"I think all of us want to get on the field, whether thatís special teams, a different position, whatever it is," Colter said. "This has been our dream for a while. When youíre able to go out there and help the team, youíll do whatever. That really speaks to Northwestern. Weíve got some unselfish players on this team that will do whatever. They donít mind switching positions."
Northwestern stripped Colter's red-shirt with two regular-season games remaining in 2010 after Persa suffered a season-ending Achilles tear. Colter played in the Wildcats' last three games that year and rushed for 105 yards in a TicketCity Bowl loss to Texas Tech.
"We had a first-team all-Big Ten quarterback ahead of me so he was an amazing quarterback so I had to get in where I could fit in, whether that was receiver, running back, wherever that was, trying to make some plays," Colter said.
It's Colter's team-first dedication that endears him to his teammates, offensive lineman Brian Mulroe said.
"He wants to get on the field," Mulroe said. "He wants to do whatever he can to help the team. Our coaches are going to do whatever they can to do the best job to play the best 11 guys for that specific play. Itís awesome to see him out there catching a pass because he can do everything."
But catching passes are likely in Colter's rear-view window. With Persa's graduation, Colter jumps in as Northwestern's unquestioned starting quarterback. His experience, success and talent have Wildcats Coach Pat Fitzgerald believing Colter can be the next versatile and dynamic quarterback following Persa and Mike Kafka. Fitzgerald touted Colter's experience as a positive entering this season.
"We got an opportunity to see his skill set a year ago, especially when you looked at the Nebraska game," Fitzgerald said. "I think obviously he did some very special things in that game, but also in every game. He's a very dynamic quarterback."
Colter rushed for two touchdowns and threw for an 81-yard touchdown strike to Jeremy Ebert to lift the Wildcats to a 28-25 upset of the Cornhuskers. He threw for 115 yards and rushed for 57 in the win at Nebraska.
Mulroe said Colter and Persa compare favorably as athletes and on-field effectiveness. But in personality, they carry themselves much differently, Colter said.
"I feel Dan was a little bit more serious. Iím a little bit more easy-going out there on the field," Colter said. "Iíve got a little more swag on the field, be confident. I just kind of let the game come to me. Thatís contagious to the team. Weíre out there having fun, got confidence, hopefully the team follows us. I hope thatís something I bring to them."
Colter will face some challenges on the field this year. The Wildcats are the only Big Ten team to play three BCS opponents in non-conference play. Their last five Big Ten games are against teams that played in bowls last year.
But Northwestern never has backed down against an opponent before under Fitzgerald and don't expect that to starting happening now.
"We've got a group of young men that expect bowl games and now are hoping to take the next step and expect championships," Fitzgerald said. "That's where we're at as a program."
So the pressure's on Colter to keep the program moving forward to its fifth consecutive bowl appearance. But football is just part of the total profile Colter tries to uphold. He was an academic all-Big Ten honoree and a psychology major. His goals are success in multiple areas with football clearly the most visible.
"At Northwestern we have a strict set of values, some high expectations that they expect everybody to follow," Colter said. "We really pride ourselves with what we do. We have a lot of integrity over there. We really just donít want to disappoint ourselves, our program, everything we stand for. We feel like weíve been able to build our reputation up. We definitely want to maintain that and continue to build it."