Anthony Walker Jr, Matthew Harris get strength in number at Northwestern in 2016
EVANSTON – What does it take to be No. 1? At Northwestern, it’s all about a vote.
After all that digit on the Wildcats’ jersey carries special meaning for the program. It’s reserved for someone who the players feel symbolizes what the program is all about in terms of character on and off the field.
Being a great player doesn’t hurt either.
Maybe that’s why the choice seemed easy for the players within the program and to observers outside of it.
“To wear number one and represent what the program means is a very big deal,” said Northwestern junior linebacker Anthony Walker Jr.
He’s figures to be the No. 1 focus this season after a breakout sophomore campaign in which he was a consensus All-Big Ten and All-American selection by the Associated Press. Walker got that by picking up 20.5 tackles for loss-the second-highest in Wildcats history-and now finds himself on a slew of watch lists for the 2016 season.
Yet getting the No. 1, which Walker wore for a time in high school at Monsignor Edward Pace in Miami, tops the other preseason accolades.
“It’s something that the team votes on. You don’t really know who is going to get it and whoever gets it is very special to this program and for me to get that it’s an honor,” said Walker, who switches from No. 18 for the 2016 season. “It’s very humbling for my teammates to get that recognition. Just a humbling experience and I hope I wear it with pride this year.”
Oddly enough, his roommate will be doing the exact same thing. Only his was a vote of one.
That’s senior cornerback Matthew Harris, who made the decision to trade in his No. 27 from the 2015 season for No. 11. The switch was all his decision and it had to do with his father, Russell Harris Sr.
“My father’s birthday was November 11th, which is ’11/11.,'” said Harris, who has played most of his football life in tribute to his late father.
Russell Harris Jr. died in 2007, two years before Matthew started playing high school football at Lyons Township High School. His play there earned him a chance to play right away at Northwestern as he suited up as a true freshman and in 2015 he led the Wildcats with four interceptions and returned one for a touchdown against Eastern Illinois.
“This is my way of really just looking down at No. 11 and just realizing where I’ve come from, how much my family has been involved and really just what I’m about,” said Harris of the number switch. “That’s really just acknowledging my family and just doing the best I can for them.”
While finding strength in number, just like his roommate.