Nick Roach had a big smile on his face. A large purple bag arrived at his locker. It was a gift from Northwestern; new Under Armour hats, t-shirts, a jacket, and more.
"We really appreciate it, honestly," Roach said. "Stuff like that goes a long way when you get out."
Family is forever, and that holds true with Northwestern. Roach and other former Wildcats remain connected with the program, maintaining close relationships with old friends.
Days prior to the start of training camp, Roach's phone buzzed with a text message. It was Pat Fitzgerald, wishing him luck for the upcoming season.
"It's not a strange thing to get a text from Coach Fitz out of the blue, just to say he's proud of us," added Roach.
Northwestern became home for New Jersey native Corey Wootton. During his five years in college, he made many friends and even met his wife. It was too perfect when the defensive end was drafted by the Chicago Bears.
Wootton and Roach matched well with the Bears organization. It stems from the culture created with Northwestern. Both are built on a family foundation, sharing similar values.
"The Bears organizations stands for everything that Northwestern does—character, integrity, being sound football players," said Wootton.
A close culture is fostered, creating a positive locker room. It's how head coach Lovie Smith maximizes his talent, similar to Fitzgerald.
"It's a great place to play," Roach said of the Chicago organization. "I have no desire to try to leave and go to another team. Our locker room here, it's as close as it can get to a college locker room. There are a lot of humble guys that know when to have fun and when to play."
The Northwestern connection grew stronger when Sherrick McManis was traded to the Bears from Houston. It was another natural addition, and has paid great dividends.
“He’s exceeded our expectations,’’ Bears special-teams coordinator Dave Toub said. ‘‘We saw him on tape, and we saw that he was a good gunner and he filled a need for us. That’s what we’ve expected. Once we got him, we started realizing what kind of take-off and get-off he has. We felt like we could use him as a rusher.”
The three Wildcats teamed up for an unforgettable moment this season.
Tennessee Titans punter Brett Kern aligned near his team's own end zone, waiting for the snap. The Bears countered with 11 rushers on the line. Wootton lined up toward the right side of the line; Roach and McManis were in stance next to each other.
"Coach Toub is a genius when it comes to scheming teams,'' McManis said of the play. "We trust in everything he does.''
Both Wootton and McManis were focused on their lanes, but Roach saw the play unfold before his eyes.
"I saw it all happen, I was right next to Sherrick," recalled Roach. "I was in the gap right next to him. I saw him come through the gap. I knew he was free. As soon as I heard the double pop, I knew it was going to be a block."
The ball bounced toward the end zone and Wootton was in pursuit. He scooped it and pushed toward the goal line, seeking his first touchdown since high school.
"I knew I didn't have too far to go, I had five yards or so," Wootton said. "I was not getting tackled before the end zone, I wasn't letting that happen."
The three returned to the sidelines feeling pure jubilation. A coach remarked, "It's the Northwestern connection!" It has been a natural fit.
"We look out for each other, take care of each other, and it was the same at Northwestern," said Roach. "Teammates take care of teammates."