Northwestern names Johnson starting QB, loses top RB to injury

  • Northwestern quarterback Hunter Johnson (15) throws a pass against Stanford in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Stanford, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019.

    Northwestern quarterback Hunter Johnson (15) throws a pass against Stanford in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Stanford, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. Associated Press

Updated 8/17/2021 7:54 PM

Northwestern announced some surprising news -- as well as a big disappointment -- on Tuesday.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald revealed the starting quarterback will be Hunter Johnson, who struggled after arriving two years ago as a transfer from Clemson.


The school also announced sophomore Cam Porter, the team's top returning rusher, will miss the season with a lower body injury.

"Cam was noncontact, kind of just a freak deal," Fitzgerald said. "You're heartbroken anytime anybody gets hurt, but he'll come back stronger. I feel really good about our depth there."

Offensive lineman Zachary Franks, a redshirt sophomore who has not been a starter, will also miss the season with an injury.

At quarterback, Johnson was one of the highest-ranked recruits to ever play at Northwestern when he arrived in 2019. But that season didn't go well. Last year, he was the backup to Indiana grad transfer Peyton Ramsey.

So it was natural to think NU's newest transfer, Ryan Hilinski from South Carolina, would be the starter this year. The Orange, California, native was ranked the No. 2 pro-style quarterback and No. 60 overall prospect in the country by 247sports in the Class of 2018.

Johnson, from Brownsburg, Indiana, was the No. 2 quarterback and No. 30-ranked prospect in the Class of '17. The third QB in the mix for the Wildcats was Andrew Marty, a senior from Cincinnati. Johnson started five games in 2019 and Marty one.

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"This wasn't like a huge separation between Hunter and Andrew and Ryan," Fitzgerald said. "I think Andrew and Ryan are going to push Hunter, but also be prepared. We have some young guys who have had really good camps too.

"I'm really proud of Hunter with everything he's been through to step up and earn our starting job. I think he's been through a lot and I think he's grown and he's learned a ton. When he's confident and he lets his talent go out there, it's as good as we've had."

Porter came on strong at the end of last season, rushing for 142 yards against Illinois, then scoring touchdowns in both the Big Ten title game and Citrus Bowl.

The new starter at running back is redshirt sophomore Evan Hull, who has 495 career rushing yards and 6 touchdowns.

"If I were to tell you going into the year it was 1A and 1B, you guys would be like, 'Well, whatever,'" Fitzgerald said. "It is. Both those guys were ready to be the lead back and I don't think Evan would ever want it to happen this way, but nonetheless he's ready to go."


The Wildcats lost some depth at running back when both Drake Anderson (Arizona) and Isaiah Bowser (Central Florida) transferred after last season. Fitzgerald mentioned Andrew Clair, a grad transfer from Bowling Green, and Anthony Tyus, a true freshman from Portage, Michigan.

"You've got I think three really talented guys," Fitzgerald said. "You felt spectacular about our depth with four, and you feel really good about it with three."

Northwestern is also rebuilding at receiver. The team's top six in receptions from last season either graduated, transferred or are out with an injury in the case of Porter. Three starters return on the offensive line.

The Wildcats will open the season on Friday, Sept. 3, against Michigan State at Ryan Field.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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