If, in future years, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald needs to remind his players about the importance of unselfishness, he won’t need to unleash a flowery speech. He already knows a perfect example to illustrate his point: Kain Colter.
The Wildcats senior is a case study in putting the team in front of one’s owns needs and desires. Think about it. In an era when many players transfer just as soon as they find out they’re not No. 1 on the depth chart, Colter hasn’t complained about surrendering snaps at quarterback to Trevor Siemian. He’ll go line up at receiver or running back if the play demands it. He even willingly burned his redshirt late in his true freshman year to bolster the depth at quarterback after Dan Persa’s injury, even though his own shoulder wasn’t quite right.
“That unselfishness will be one of Kain's lasting legacies,” Fitzgerald told ESPN.com.
Colter doesn’t see his team-first attitude as out of the ordinary.
“I feel like that’s what Northwestern is all about,” he said. “I was just the guy who was put in the spotlight to show that.”
To be sure, there aren’t many players on or off the field quite like Colter. He started all but one game at quarterback last season, completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 872 yards and 8 touchdowns. He also ran for 894 yards and 12 scores and caught 16 passes for 169 yards. Colter has been working triple duty ever since a shoulder injury his senior year of high school forced him to play some other positions.
“For me, I think I offer a different dimension than maybe anybody in the country, because I can line up at receiver and have a big impact, too,” he said. “That’s something that I think makes me unique. So anytime I can do it, I really enjoy it.”
One of the remarkable aspects of Colter’s versatility is that he spends almost all of his time during the week at quarterback. He doesn’t attend receivers’ position meetings. He just uses his knowledge of the entire offense to know where to be when he lines up at a different spot on the field.
“Kain runs great routes,” said Wildcats receiver Tony Jones, who is Colter’s roommate. “It’s very impressive how he can just come out there and play receiver. But he’s one of the most athletic guys on the team -- whether it’s basketball, golf, bowling or whatever, he’s definitely very versatile in everything he does. He’ll brag and tell you he can probably play corner as well.”
Still, there aren’t many quarterbacks who would voluntarily sideline themselves before a potential game-winning drive, as Colter did in last season’s opener at Syracuse. Knowing he couldn’t throw effectively after taking several hard hits, Colter told the coaching staff that Siemian -- who is more of a pocket passer -- would have a better chance to lead the team to a score on that last possession. Siemian did, and Colter set a tone for the rest the season, which saw Northwestern go 10-3 and win its first bowl game since 1949.
“I think if I were to go ask him right now, he’d say, ‘I’m a quarterback,’” Fitzgerald said. “And I want him to tell me that. And then he’d say, ‘But coach, whatever you need me to do, I’ll do.’”
Fitzgerald said Colter told pro scouts basically the same thing this spring during the team’s junior day. Colter is a pre-med student with aspirations of being a doctor some day, although he did an internship this summer at Goldman Sachs (how’s that for versatility?). He wants to play in the NFL before he pursues his many post-graduate opportunities, though at 6-foot and 190 pounds he does not fit the ideal mold of a pro quarterback. Yet that’s not all he offers, either.
“Whenever you’re unique, [scouts] have to take a stronger look at you,” he said. “Guys like Antwaan Randle El and Kordell Stewart were able to be effective, and maybe I can do that at the next level. But I’ll play whatever I need to play to get there.”
First, Colter has another year at Northwestern to build his résumé, and he hopes to lead the Wildcats to a Big Ten title. His future as an example of unselfishness seems secure.
“His legacy will long outlast his time with us,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s no doubt about that.”