Anthony Walker Jr. is primed for one heck of a junior season, but can he be the best defensive player in college football?
Pat Fitzgerald was back in 1995 and 1996, when he was presented with the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in back-to-back seasons. Fitzgerald now coaches Walker, who was included on the preseason watch list for this year's Nagurski Trophy when it was released on Friday.
Walker was one of 13 players from Big Ten teams on the list, but he should definitely be among the conference's favorites for the award. Last season, Walker earned All-Big Ten First Team honors and was an AP Third Team All-American, leading Northwestern with 122 tackles and 20.5 tackles for loss. Those 20.5 tackles for loss were the most in the Big Ten and ranked second in the country.
If Walker were to win, he'd join Fitzgerald as the only Northwestern players to win the award. Fitzgerald is the only player to ever win the award twice.
Twelve other players from the Big Ten landed on this year's watch list: Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel, Michigan State linebacker Riley Bullough, Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell, Iowa defensive back Desmond King, Michigan defensive back Jourdan Lewis, Ohio State defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis, Maryland defensive back Will Likely, Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell, Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan, Illinois linebacker Hardy Nickerson, Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers and Michigan defensive lineman Chris Wormley.
Only two Big Ten players have won the Nagurski Trophy since Fitzgerald's second victory in 1996: Michigan's Charles Woodson in 1997 and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis in 2006. Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh won in 2009, before the Huskers joined the Big Ten.
Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.
Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football.
"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.
"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.
"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline."
Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."
"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.
"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."
Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.
Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.
As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.
Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.
The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.