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Best in 25 Years Series: Wootton is Northwestern's top defensive end

Corey Wootton
Corey Wootton

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


BEST IN 25 YEARS SERIES:

OFFENSE: QB Dan Persa l RB Justin Jackson l WR D'Wayne Bates l TE Drake Dunsmore l T Zach Strief l G Ryan Padgett l C Rob Johnson


I'll never forget the first time I laid eyes on Corey Wootton.

It was a Northwestern practice in August of 2005. The term man-child gets used a lot in sports to describe young players, but I've never seen so stark an example as the three-star prospect from Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey.

Wootton, a true freshman coming off of his first Camp Kenosha, had the body of a man -- a very large man at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds -- even if, at that point, he was all arms and legs. But then there was his face, which looked impossibly young for someone that big. He looked like a 12-year-old, with wide eyes, puffy cheeks and curly hair, as if someone had plucked the head off of a middle schooler and plopped it onto a superhero's body.

I shared my amazement with Northwestern defensive coordinator Greg Colby, who was in charge of this player who had been listed as an offensive tackle by Rivals but would be playing on the defensive line at NU.

"That kid," he said confidently, "is going to play on Sundays one day."

Colby wasn't right about many things during his tenure at Northwestern and would get fired halfway through Wootton's career. But he was spot-on about his cherubic freshman, who turned into an All-Big Ten defensive end for the Wildcats and eventually enjoyed a five-year career in the NFL.

He is also now the fan's choice as the best Northwestern DE of the last quarter century.

Wootton dominated a loaded six-player field of great Wildcat DEs with 62% of the vote. The runner-up was all-time NU sack king Joe Gaziano (18.3% of votes), followed by all-time TFL king Casey Dailey (11.3%) and Dean Lowry (8.5%). Dwayne Missouri and Ifeadi Odenibgo were the other two candidates in the field.

Corey Wootton Key Statistics
Tackles Sacks TFL

Career

156

19.5

38

Best Year (2008)

42

10*

16

* Third all-time at Northwestern

BALLOT: Who was the best Northwestern defensive end over the last 25 years?


You won't find Wootton atop any Northwestern season or career lists for sacks or TFLs, like other players on this list. No, this was a vote for his overall excellence.

A rare combination of size and speed, Wootton started 49 games in his Wildcat career. He could anchor the edge against the run, rush the passer and even drop into coverage on a zone blitz (he had four career interceptions). He could do it all.

Wootton was a Freshman All-America in 2006, when, as a redshirt freshman, he led the Wildcats in sacks and TFL and -- a hint of what was to come -- became became the first Wildcat since Hudhaifa Ismaeli in 1995 to record every major defensive statistic in a single season. (That's tackles, TFL, sacks, pass deflections, interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, QB hurries and blocked kicks.)

No one played defensive end any better than Wootton did in 2008, when, as a redshirt junior, he he was NU's team MVP and a first-team All-Big Ten pick. He racked up 42 tackles and led the team in sacks (10), TFL (16) and quarterback hurries (7). He also duplicated his feat of recording a statistic in every major defensive category.

A torn ACL suffered in the 2008 Alamo Bowl slowed Wootton in 2009, but he was still a player that could alter a game plan -- and a game. Just ask Iowa.

It's difficult to think of a bigger sack than Wootton's takedown of Hawkeye QB Ricky Stanzi in 2009. With NU trailing 10-0, he drilled Stanzi in the end zone and forced a fumble that was recovered by Northwestern's Marshall Thomas for a TD. The sack knocked Stanzi out for the rest of the game as the Wildcats came back to stun the undefeated, No. 4 Hawkeyes, 17-10.

Wootton was a fourth-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears in the 2010 NFL Draft. In his rookie year of 2010, Wootton became famous for another sack: this one of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre. The sack knocked Favre out of the game and it turned out to be the last snap of the Hall of Famer's career.

By that point, however, people had long since stopped calling Wootton a man-child.


Highlight Reel

Northwestern vs. Iowa, 2009. (1:11 mark for Wootton's sack of Ricky Stanzi.)


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