EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern's 2009 football season officially got underway on Monday with the first day of on-field practice. On a day that began with the team conditioning test at 8 a.m. followed by a series of team and position meetings, the Wildcats finally were able to strap on their helmets and get to work during their 4 p.m. practice.
NU's 18-period practice represented a chance for returners to begin learning their new roles while Northwestern's true freshmen got their first taste of their new team's fast-paced practice environment.
"We're trying to educate our freshmen the best we can and we're doing a lot of teaching here the first three days," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said after practice. "On a scale of 10 I'd say today was about a four so that means we have six more notches left to go on how we practice."
Even though today marked the true start of the season, Fitzgerald's squad is looking to build on the solid foundation it laid during spring practice in April.
"The key is to continue the momentum we had at the end of spring practice, I really thought that week four was our best week of the spring and that's what you look for as a coach--that each week you get a little better," Fitzgerald said. "Based on what I saw this morning in the conditioning test and in the level of enthusiasm we had in practice I think our guys had a good summer in terms of bridging the gap between spring and fall."
Northwestern's first dynamic warmup session of the 2009 campaign had an extra flair, with a mix of rap and rock music blaring across the FieldTurf practice field to keep the atmosphere loose.
"On the first day the tunes aren't as necessary but by Day 15 when it's 90 degrees outside the music can help get you through it," said senior safety Brendan Smith. "The hardest part is deciding what music to play but you try to please the majority. There's a lot of different kinds of music that can help you get up for practice if you let it."
Northwestern is led by senior quarterback Mike Kafka as well as a defense that returns eight starters from a 2008 unit that helped NU earn a 9-4 record and a berth in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Wildcats will go through six practices on campus before shifting the site of preseason camp to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, Wis.