The Northwestern University Wildcats opened the 2023 football season the same way they played most of 2022, with a loss.
Rutgers defeated the Cats 24-7 on the road Sunday in New Jersey.
But while the results on the scoreboard looked much like last year, when NU finished 1-11, the added pressure and attention from the hazing scandal made this opener a lot different.
“If anything,” Interim Head Coach David Braun said after the game, “it was a relief to get to game day, to get the opportunity to compete.”
“It was the lightest,” Braun said he felt, “since I took over” as interim coach.
In no way did Braun downplay the loss, however, saying that he “need[s] to be much better,” and that Cats are not where they need to be on the field.
Braun was named interim head coach following the July dismissal of longtime coaching legend Pat Fitzgerald, in the wake hazing allegations by former players, more than a dozen of whom have sued the university.
Fitzgerald has denied knowing of the hazing.
Director of Athletics Derrick Gragg praised Braun and his assistants for “keeping the team together,” and said the coaches, staff, and players have shown “collective resilience” in getting ready for the season.
In a pre-game interview with ESPN, Gragg said the football team recently went through anti-hazing training, something which all NU sports teams will also undergo.
The AD said the training was “an intense, three-hour session,” and added that “I think they [the players] took it very seriously.”
Gragg said NU’s student-athletes “really need our support right now. Their lives have changed dramatically.”
The Wildcats play their home opener this upcoming Saturday vs UTEP (University of Texas at El Paso).
The site Inside NU quotes Braun urging fans to attend.
“You want to come root for the ‘Cats, and support them. Show up at Ryan Field.”
Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m.