Northern Composure

Sept. 29, 2006

Piloting one of the best starts in Northwestern men's soccer history, Brad North earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week accolades Sept. 18 for his play that lifted Wildcats to a big win in their conference-opener against Ohio State. The senior forward was also named to the National Teams of the Week by College Soccer News, and after tallying two goals in Northwestern's 3-1 win over the Buckeyes -- the 'Cats' first triumph against the Scarlet and Gray in 13 years.

With his final conference season underway, North talks with the Big Ten about the Wildcats' success, what it's like to score a game-winning goal against the reigning national champions, and how he is trying to dispel the myth that 13 is an unlucky number.

Last week you were recognized as the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and also named to the College Soccer News National Team of the Week. With all the success that Northwestern is having so far this season, what do those honors mean to you at this point in your Northwestern career?
The individual honors don't mean too much. I mean, it's just great that our team has been pulling through. Personally, it's great that I got those, but I'm more focused on the team right now than individual efforts.

With one of the best opening records and the highest national ranking in program history, how much have you seen the program change since your freshman season? 
It has changed a lot. When I came in as a freshman, every game was a struggle. We were always the underdog. Now we're the favorites and it's a completely different challenge. However, we have the veteran attitude and the ability to rise to that challenge and show that we belong, as well.

You had two goals against the Buckeyes to give NU its first win in a Big Ten opener under coach Tim Lenahan.  What is it about his coaching philosophies that have helped turn this program around?
It's the little things, like tucking in your shirt or being on time. It's those little things that I think transferred over to winning games. He says, "If you do the little things, everything else will take care of itself." So I think our team has had the mentality that if we do the little things, if we do all of the small things correctly, the bigger picture will come together.

As a junior you led the Wildcats in goals and points, what kind of personal goals did you set coming into your senior season?
My goals are pretty much what the team's goals are. If I don't score another goal for the rest of the year and we do well, that's fine. That the thing over the past couple years. This team has really become our team, and it has been great. There was a spout through a couple of games this year where I didn't score, but our team was winning, so that was fine with me. I'm sure that's the way everyone else feels. Our goals are to do really well in the Big Ten and to get an NCAA bid.

What has having capable offensive threats like Gerardo Alvarez and Dave Roth around you done for your productivity?
Personally, I think they are two of the best players in the Big Ten. They always find a way to make the play and I guess the rest of us are just there to finish the score. Dave's playing really well on the left side and "G" is playing really well in the middle. They're both leading in assists on our team and are up there in the Big Ten, so it's just a lot easier for all of us, knowing that none of us have to rely on just ourselves. We can fall back on other people, and if it's not our game or not our day, we have someone else's shoulders to rest on.

Your team has scored 13 of its 14 goals this season during the second period. What makes this group a second-half team? Is it a habit that you think works to Northwestern's favor?
It's just the way it works. I'm not exactly sure why that's happening, but I guess it's the regrouping at halftime. We just have a tendency to come out fine in the second half. I don't know. Every game, someone different finds a way to step up and take care of it. We have had several different scorers, including Eamon O'Neill and Carl Pett. A lot of different people have stepped up, and it has taken the load off of any single player.

You have made some huge game-winning goals in your career so far, including the score to upset Indiana in 2004, what makes you so dominant under pressure?
I guess it's just being at the right place at the right time, keeping composure, and not thinking about it. I have two great assist-makers who just put it on my foot. I do the easy part and put it in.

What was that experience like against Indiana to knock off the defending National Champions on their own turf?
It was a great feeling. That was really the first big game that our program had won. It was a good feeling to know that we were the one's who ended all their streaks. It kind of sent a message to other people that we weren't the doormat of the Big Ten anymore and that we could play as well.

Northwestern's only two-time All-Big Ten selection Brad Napper took on a different role for the team this year as an assistant coach since graduating last May. What advantage has his presence on the NU sideline brought this season?
The older guys on our team have never really thought of him as a coaching figure. Napper has always been more like our friend. The last three years, he has always been there and he has always been our leader, so we've always looked up to him in a sense.

It's really nothing new with him in the coaching role. It's Brad Napper, he's our friend, he's captain, and he's still with us. It's great. The season wouldn't be what it is without him. He's always been at NU since I've been here. He does a good job of being a sort of bumper between the players and coach because he has been where we have - exactly where we have - and now he's on the other side of it, so we get a good relationship between our players and the coaching staff.

Who's the toughest player you've faced?
I always thought [Kyle] Veris from Ohio State was pretty rough last year, but honestly, I hate going against Drew Ratner on my team. The kid... I don't know. I absolutely hate it in practice and desperately try not to be against him. He's physical, he's big, and he knows exactly what makes me mad.

How has the Big Ten's style of play changed your game over the past three seasons?
It's a lot more physical. When I first came, having played club soccer and high school soccer, the physical aspect was not always there. In the Big Ten, you have to have that or you're just going to get run over. The speed play and the physicality of Big Ten play have definitely changed the way I play.

Last year you were named to the Academic All-Big Ten team and finished the season second in the league in goals per game, how are you able to balance the demands of playing a Big Ten varsity sport with the rigors of academics at such a demanding institution?
You get in your own groove. You can't understand how much soccer takes part in your life until the season is done and you get those weeks off. You're actually sitting there bored, kind of wondering "What else can I do?" You find a pretty good balance between the two, and you really don't find out how much free time you have until the season is over. It becomes kind of like second nature.

You're studying radio, television and film - what do you hope to do with that major?
I would like to get into sports editing, maybe for a show, for example, something along the lines of the Comcast Sports Show. That would be kind of fun, but I'd actually like to go back to school to study business, as well.

Why did you decide to come to Northwestern four years ago rather than a national powerhouse like Wake Forest?
My dad had always stressed how great the Big Ten Conference was, but I never realized the full impact of that until I got here. I was born in Chicago and I grew up here, so it was kind of like coming back home.

When we lived in Chicago, I think it was in 1996 when Northwestern was in the Rose Bowl, so I just remember watching games with my dad and he would always say how good of a school Northwestern was. He understands the Big Ten because he wasn't a part of something like that. He graduated from Bucknell and my mom went to Virginia Tech, so they both really stress the Big Ten atmosphere, Big Ten athletics, Big Ten football.

Obviously the academics at Northwestern are great, but what really sold me was when I came on my official visit and I stayed with Napper. I saw the connection that the whole team had with each other. I came on my official visit with [current Northwestern senior soccer players] Jeff Mills, Kyle Moore and Justin Pines, and we all hung out on our recruiting visit and saw the way that the team functioned. We met last year's senior class, and saw the way they had respect for one another and had respect for the coach. It was a great atmosphere and I wanted to be a part of it.

Being from Texas, how hard has it been to adjust to the Chicago winters on Lake Michigan?
I really don't like the heat actually. Houston with the humidity and the heat was kind of pushing it a little hard. I enjoy it here. I was born in Chicago and then lived here for eight years, and moved to Atlanta before moving to Texas. I love the snow, I love the climate. I love the cold feeling on your breath during Big Ten games. Two years against Michigan, I just remember being able to see my breath and the cold, nipping air. I enjoy it a lot.

Any reason behind picking the No. 13? Isn't that something most athletes would consider unlucky?
When I came to NU, my number through out high school and growing up was No. 2, but I didn't get that jersey. I kind of got No. 13 handed to me, and I thought it was unlucky, too. Two weeks into my freshman season, I rolled my ankle and sprained it pretty badly, putting me out for about five games. I was down in the dumps, thinking the season was going to be horrible and that No. 13 was bad. But I guess over the past couple of years that luck has changed for me. It's not so bad anymore. It was rough breaking into the jersey though.