Clemson transfer ready, but Fitzgerald wants NU QBs to compete

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Clemson's Hunter Johnson (15) looks to pass against Miami during the second half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in December 2017. Transfer Johnson is one of the most highly-regarded recruits to play at Northwestern, but coach Pat Fitzgerald insisted the quarterback spot remains a competition.

    Clemson's Hunter Johnson (15) looks to pass against Miami during the second half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in December 2017. Transfer Johnson is one of the most highly-regarded recruits to play at Northwestern, but coach Pat Fitzgerald insisted the quarterback spot remains a competition. Associated Press File Photo

 
 
Updated 8/7/2019 9:02 PM

After a year of biding his time on the scout team, Northwestern transfer quarterback Hunter Johnson is eligible to play.

But don't call him the starter just yet. Whether it's inevitable or not, coach Pat Fitzgerald insisted it's still an open competition between Johnson and senior T.J. Green.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's funny, at the kickoff luncheon it was interesting, the Big Ten announced (Johnson as) our starting quarterback," Fitzgerald said Wednesday at Northwestern's media day. "I didn't know we announced that. I appreciated them doing that, but I think everybody in our program knows that the battle is ongoing."

There's a reason Johnson is the presumptive starter. The native of Brownsburg, Ind., is one of the most highly-ranked recruits to play at Northwestern. Coming out of high school, he was rated the No. 1 QB in the country by ESPN and No. 2 by 247sports.

He went to Clemson, completed 21 of 27 passes as a freshman while backing up Kelly Bryant. But he decided to move on when the Tigers brought in QB Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall recruit in 2018 who led Clemson to a national title last season.

"For me, Northwestern was already like a second home for me," Johnson said. "My brother played here for four years. My cousin went to school here as well. So I've been around Northwestern for a long time and really when I was coming down to make that decision, it was a pretty easy decision for me, having already known what I was getting at Northwestern, with the coaching staff, with the players.

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"It was the perfect situation for me and what I was looking for. I love it here."

Johnson's older brother Cole was a preferred walk-on receiver at Northwestern from 2013-16.

Green has a valuable family connection as well. His father is longtime NFL quarterback Trent Green. And T.J. Green has playing experience, appearing in nine games last season while starter Clayton Thorson eased back into game action after ACL surgery. Green completed 20 of 36 passes last year.

"I've been in this system, this is my fifth year, so I know it like the back of my hand," Green said. "I feel very confident in what I'm doing on the field, which allows me to play a lot faster. I think that's a huge part of football, being able to play fast. "

While Johnson has had a year to learn the Wildcats' scheme, he spent last fall practicing the opposing team's offense.

"I just tried to have a lot of fun with it," Johnson said. "I knew every week that I was going to be preparing to be Nate Stanley or all these different quarterbacks from all over the Big Ten, Shea Patterson, whoever it may be. I really tried to take pride last year in getting those (defensive) guys as prepared as possible."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There's no word on when Fitzgerald might name a starter. Northwestern has a tough opener, playing at Stanford on Aug. 31, and football coaches love to keep opponents guessing. Practice began on Aug. 1.

"The reality is it's a battle," Fitzgerald said. "T.J. obviously and (junior) Aiden (Smith) have a lot more reps than Hunter has in our offense. I know he transferred last year but spent the majority running our scout team and did an outstanding job at it. "

"Everyone in that (quarterback) room is good, everyone deserves to be there," Green said. "It's going to be a competition that comes down to the wire."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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