Todd Porter's column from Big Ten media day
Surrounded by practically no one at a table in the middle of a large conference room, Tyrell Sutton felt perfectly comfortable. The 5-foot-9 Northwestern University running back never has drawn a crowd. Not even when he was named Mr. Football in Ohio, a state that has perhaps the deepest roots of Big Ten talent anywhere in the Midwest. As the final hour of a morning interview session wound down, a handful of reporters made their way to Sutton’s table. A few feet away, Illinois’ J Leman held court. In the corner of the room, Ohio State’s Kirk Barton, a media must who will fill a notebook with great quips, had a small audience. Sutton, meanwhile, just kept smiling, answering questions. Ohio State’s radar didn’t find Sutton until after he committed to Northwestern. He was fast, but he was short. That seemed like the story at college. Sutton was this, but that always followed. “I’ll always have a chip on my shoulder,” Sutton said. “I’m never over it. There was a great quote from (Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald). ‘Satisfaction is the enemy of greatness. Whenever you’re satisfied, that makes you feel as though it’s good enough -- not only myself, but our team as a whole. We never feel we’re good enough. ... We always have a chip on our shoulder.” Northwestern’s football team buried its head coach, Randy Walker, last summer. Fitzgerald, the youngest head coach in the Big Ten, was thrust into a role he had no choice but to assume. Consequently, the Wildcats finished 4-8. Sutton had a 1,000-yard season. Again. He was named Big Ten freshman of the year in 2005 with 1,474 yards. Wednesday, at a five-star hotel, he was the youngest player brought to media days. He talked fast. He talked big. He talked like Northwestern football would be back. But he never talked down about the school that failed to land him out of Hoban High School. “I didn’t grow up an Ohio State fan,” he said. “I think if they would’ve offered me, I probably wouldn’t have gone. Anyone in Ohio wants to pretty much go to Ohio State. Some times, you’ve got to get away. By me not going there, it turned out to be the best for the both of us.” Ohio State had a backlog of backs. The Buckeyes had Antonio Pittman on the roster. Pittman and Sutton played against one another on some of the same Akron football fields. This season, the pressure is on. Sutton is on the Maxwell Award watch list as the nation’s best player. He could be a Doak Walker Award candidate. Yes, Sutton feels like he has to make progress in 2007. “I welcome the pressure,” Sutton said. “... You can’t do this alone whether it’s in the Big Ten or in life. You can’t do anything alone. You always need help at some point.” Last year, Northwestern needed plenty of help. The Wildcats found it in each other. Saturdays, though, weren’t the same. With a heavy heart and a chip on his shoulder, Sutton managed 1,000 yards. “I was in a state of shock because I couldn’t believe I saw (Walker) yesterday, and the next day he’s gone,” Sutton said. “Coach Fitz was rushed into a head coaching job, we were rushing into a season and weren’t adequately prepared.” His lips are moving and spitting out words as fast as his legs kick up grass. Tony Sutton, overlooked Wednesday, overlooked much of his career, is fine with his stature. Northwestern is the perfect place for him. “It was an underdog coming out of high school, and Northwestern is always the underdog,” he said. “It’s great to slide under the radar ... and prove everyone wrong.” Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or firstname.lastname@example.org.