Northwestern coach ‘very calculated’ about bonding, activities

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EVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern interim coach David Braun is taking a “very calculated” approach with off-field team activities this month, while still finding ways for players to bond and prepare for the season after a turbulent summer.

In response to hazing allegations within the program, Northwestern coaches and players went through mandatory anti-hazing training before practices began Aug. 3.

“We’ve had an opportunity to go through extensive education when it comes to hazing, as a team and as a staff,” Braun said Wednesday. “That education will continue. We’re being very mindful of making sure that we find ways to allow this team to build and become cohesive and have fun in team meetings with music, making sure that this isn’t an environment where it’s just business. This team needs to come together.”

Northwestern is starting daily team meetings with competitions between position groups, which include basketball shooting and video games. Braun also said team meals have taken on greater meaning, and he will look for more opportunities to eat together off campus before the season begins Sept. 3 at Rutgers.

“We are very calculated in the fact that we’ve got to make sure that we move forward in an appropriate manner,” Braun said.

Many of the hazing incidents listed in lawsuits filed by more than 10 former Northwestern players against the school allegedly occurred during preseason camp. Northwestern fired longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald on July 10 shortly after an investigation into hazing allegations within the program.

Braun, named interim coach July 13 after joining Fitzgerald’s staff as defensive coordinator in January, said he was open to scheduling additional team-building events as time allows and is keeping “open communication lines” with university administrators to ensure the activities are appropriate.

Quarterback Ben Bryant, a transfer from Cincinnati, described the competitions during team meetings each morning as “something everyone enjoys.”

“Our staff has a really good job of putting that together, and everyone’s all excited and cheering each other on,” Bryant said. “I think that’s been a really fun thing for us.”

Northwestern conducted a six-month investigation into hazing allegations within the program and announced several corrective measures July 7, including an independent locker room monitor who didn’t report to the football staff. The Wildcats also canceled off-campus practices in Wisconsin, where many alleged hazing incidents occurred.

No current players have been disciplined and only one staff member — defensive backs coach Matt MacPherson — is being investigated following allegations from former players.

Bryant, who is competing with Brendan Sullivan for the starting job, wants the team to maintain an inward focus and not worry about how it will be received at Rutgers.

The Wildcats open their home schedule Sept. 9 against UTEP, and Braun expects the team to be received well at Ryan Field, other than “a few outliers.”

“I certainly hope that this community, our alumni, all those that are associated with Northwestern University and Northwestern athletics, will come out and show full support for 103 young men that have worked their butts off over the course of the last four weeks and have come together to do something really special,” Braun said. “I’m really confident that that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”

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