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Best in 25 Years Series: Johnson is Northwestern's top center

Rob Johnson (with ball) started all 45 games of his career at center.
Rob Johnson (with ball) started all 45 games of his career at center.

It's been 25 years since Northwestern's magical run to the Rose Bowl in 1995 revitalized the program. WildcatReport is celebrating that Silver Anniversary by finding out who's been the best player during that span at each position.


BEST IN 25 YEARS SERIES: QB Dan Persa l RB Justin Jackson l WR D'Wayne Bates l TE Drake Dunsmore l OT Zach Strief l G Ryan Padgett


Talk about going out with a bang. Rob Johnson wrapped up his Northwestern career with a season for the ages.

Johnson was a captain of the 1995 Wildcats team that came out of nowhere to win the school's first conference championship in 59 years and enabled Johnson to make the 45th and final start of his career at the Rose Bowl.

Even though Northwestern lost the game, 41-32 to USC, it still wasn't a bad way to go out.

Johnson captured 44.7% of the votes to win the designation of best Northwestern center over the last 25 years. He beat an outstanding field of three other four-year Wildcat starters: Austin King, with 25.5% of the ballots, was the runner-up, while Brandon Vitabile got 21.3% and Trevor Rees 6.4% to round out the field.

Recruited by Francis Peay, Johnson redshirted his freshman year, when he moved from linebacker, the position he played at Chicago St. Francis DeSales High School, to offensive line.

He got his first career start in the season opener against No. 3 Notre Dame in 1992, a 42-7 loss that was also Gary Barnett's first game as Northwestern's head coach.

Johnson, in fact, opened every season of his NU career against a Top 10 Irish team. After dropping the first three by a combined score of 111-34, the Wildcats stunned No. 9 Notre Dame, 17-15, in South Bend in 1995 to begin a Fairy Tale season that would wind up in Pasadena.

Johnson was named the first-team All-Big Ten center in '95, the last Wildcat to take home that honor. He and guard Ryan Padgett, another All-Big Ten pick and captain, spearheaded perhaps the best offensive line in NU history. The veteran, physical unit anchored a power running attack that, coupled with the stingiest defense in the country, went 8-0 in Big Ten play.


BALLOT: Who was Northwestern's best center over the last 25 years?