Sophomore and pre-season All-American running back Brandon Smith has lofty goals for the Northwestern football team’s upcoming season on the gridiron.
“We want to win the national championship; we feel like we have the talent to reach that goal.”
Victory Sports Network agrees. The Raiders are ranked No. 7 in the nation on VSN’s pre-season poll, while the NAIA coaches ranking lists them at No. 14.
It’s hard to argue with them. Northwestern returns 10 starters from last year’s squad, multiple pre-season All Americans (Smith and senior offensive lineman Travis Hofmeyer), and junior quarterback Jayme Rozeboom who says he is ready to go after a major ACL injury sidelined him two years ago.
“Honestly, it did [affect me last year],” says Rozeboom. “Not only physically, but mentally. I struggled gaining confidence on it. Now it’s feeling great, the confidence is back, and I’m ready to go.”
Not all the impact players this season will be familiar faces. A transfer from the University of Sioux Falls, junior Jordan Carlson is likely to make a big impact on the defensive line.
“Jordan is very, very good,” said coach Kyle Achterhoff with a chuckle. “He’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.” At free safety, senior Steven Norman is a transfer from Dixie State. “He plays fast, he plays physical, so he’s going to be a guy who can be a difference-maker defensively.”
Coach Achterhoff and every player interviewed unsurprisingly pointed towards Saturday’s matchup with projected GPAC champion and No. 5 Morningside as a huge game for the Raiders.
“Morningside is definitely a game that is huge when you win that game, and they’ve had a bit of a run on us now, it kind of sets you up for the rest of the season,” said Achterhoff.
Smith was less diplomatic. “We have a bad taste in our mouths, have some unfinished business with Morningside.”
For a team jilted from the playoffs last year, due to “people’s voting; bureaucracy kind of things” according to Coach Achterhoff, this bad taste seems universal. What is certain: the Raiders are starting the season with a giant chip on their collective shoulder and will not be jilted again.