Big Ten football: Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald praises area grad for role on staff

When he took the mic at Big Ten Football Media Days in Indianapolis, Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald dropped the name of an assistant coach with local roots.

“I believe Matt MacPherson and our recruiting staff have done a really, really solid job recruiting (the secondary),” Fitzgerald said of his associate head coach in charge of defensive backs, “but that culture and brotherhood is owned by our DB’s. They call themselves the ‘Sky Team’ and that goes back a number of years. And that legacy of success and that group has been spectacular.”

The Wildcats led the nation in pass efficiency defense last season and produced a first-round NFL Draft pick in cornerback Greg Newsome II.

He was a first-team All-Big Ten pick along with safety Brandon Joseph, who was also named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Joseph said he enjoys playing for MacPherson, a member of the Northridge High School Athletics Hall of Fame who has coached Wildcats DBs for the past two seasons.

“He’s the one that recruited me,” Joseph said. “He’s one of the main reasons I committed to Northwestern. I’ve seen the player development and the things he’s done for players in the past, and he’s just a great coach. He cares about his players. He wants them to be great, and I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else.”

MacPherson, who was a first-team All-SWBL pick in football and basketball for the Polar Bears before a standout football career at DePauw, spent the previous 12 seasons coaching running backs at Northwestern.

In that time, he consistently churned out productive rushers, including Tyrell Sutton, Venric Mark and all-time leading rusher Justin Jackson.

“Matt’s been with us for a long time,” Fitzgerald said in a later interview. “I believe he is one of the best secondary coaches in the country. You see the way he goes about his business — he’s got high standards, high expectations. He works diligently to build relationships with his players. He’s a great recruiter. He’s got an amazing family, and he just does a great job on the field. He’s a great, great fundamental teacher. He’s got an unbelievable understanding of the big picture. He’s got an acumen on offense, and he brings that to the defensive back end.”

MacPherson was not the only local mentioned during the two days in Indianapolis.

Jacobs has ‘different gear’ for Hawkeyes

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Jestin Jacobs has improved noticeably in his third year with the Hawkeyes.

The third-year linebacker from Northmont High School played in five games last season, including a start against Purdue.

He had four tackles on the year, and Ferentz likes what he has seen of him this year.

“This spring he was just at a different gear, and that’s what coaches get to see — or not seem,” Ferentz said. “He’s carrying himself really well. He’s more confident and more mature physically and playing the way we projected and anticipated.

“He’s had some injuries along the way, but we came out of spring with three linebackers I have total confidence in, and Jestin is the third one.”

Gophers expect big things from Brown-Stephens

Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said Springfield graduate Mike Brown-Stephens needs to have a big year for his Golden Gophers.

“(Senior) Chris Autman-Bell has done a great job of leading our receivers and helping them grow up very fast, but Michael Brown-Stephens has to contribute at a very high level,” Fleck said of the third-year sophomore. “We have a very, very fast wide receiver group. A lot of inexperience and a lot of talent, but a lot of speed. They’ve worked incredibly hard in the offseason to emerge to what they want to become, and Michael Brown-Stephens is going to have to emerge as a big-time playmaker for us to have a lot of success.”

The 5-11, 195-pounder took a redshirt in 2019 and played in five games last season.

He made four catches for 40 yards and a touchdown and impressed quarterback Tanner Morgan.

“He’s been awesome,” Morgan said. “He’s incredibly gifted. Runs great routes, has great hands. I think he’s got a great opportunity to be really good for us. I look for him to be able to do a lot of really good things.

“He’s pretty fast. He’s developed a lot since he came to us.”

“He can do it all. He’s talented. He can play inside. He can play outside. He can run by you. I love working with Mike. He’s a great receiver, and I’m excited for him to get more opportunities.”

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