Northwestern tackle Peter Skoronski putting his mouth where his future first-round money is

Last year’s Wildcats “didn’t have that same intensity Northwestern teams have,” Skoronski said. “I feel like it falls on me to start holding guys accountable.”

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Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski at Big Ten media days in Indianapolis.

Ryan Kuttler | Northwestern Athletics

Northwestern’s best football player isn’t afraid to tell it like it is about last season’s 3-9 team, which fell so short of the 2020 squad’s accomplishments, it was truly hard to believe.

“We were too comfortable coming off a great season,” Peter Skoronski said. “We didn’t have that same intensity Northwestern teams have.”

How will the junior offensive tackle’s teammates feel when they see that? It doesn’t matter. As training camp rolls on, he’s going to speak up, and they’re just going to have to listen. If they don’t like it, too bad.

“I feel like it falls on me to start holding guys accountable,” he said.

Given the stature of the 6-4, 315-pound Skoronski — he’s projected as an NFL first-round pick in 2023 and could be the first tackle off the board — that might sound a bit like bravado or bluster. It isn’t. If anything, such talk goes against the former Maine South star’s nature.

He’s big as a mountain, strong as an ox, nimble as a dancer and, let’s see, what else? Quiet. Unassuming. Much more focused than full of hot air.

“The truth is, I’m someone who doesn’t talk a ton,” he said. “I like to focus on my own game, not everybody else’s. But one thing I’ve really been challenging myself to do is speak up more, because I believe it’s something this team needs.”

It was offensive line coach Kurt Anderson who got into Skoronski’s head about this, telling him it’s not enough to lead by example. A player with every physical tool in the box ought to have the conscientiousness to lift others up and bring them along. And as hard as the 2021 campaign was on the Wildcats, there likely were a whole bunch of players who needed some lifting up and bringing along.

Illinois v Northwestern

Skoronski in 2020.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

After winning the West division and playing in the Big Ten championship the season before, the Wildcats were expected to drop off a bit with the guts of their defense and quarterback Peyton Ramsey gone. But running back Cam Porter — the key to the season’s offensive plan — tore an ACL in camp. Then the opener against Michigan State came, and the defense gave up a 75-yard touchdown run on the very first play.

Downhill from there it all went. The Wildcats managed a league-low 16.6 points per game, putting untold pressure on a defense that showed no signs at any point that it could handle it. Somehow, despite opposing defenses always seeming to know what was coming, Evan Hull rushed for 1,000 yards and led all conference running backs in receiving. Aside from that, the offense was a dud, and the defense got torched like it was the 1980s in Evanston all over again.

How do the Wildcats turn all that back around?

“By getting back to the physicality and toughness of a lot of really good Northwestern teams,” Skoronski said. “We have the guys. Can we be disciplined? Can we execute?”

It’s not wrong to think the Wildcats can jump from the West cellar. Porter and Hull are ready to go. A defense with Adetomiwa Adebawore anchoring things up front has everything to prove. And a couple of key vets, Adebawore and Skoronski, are letting everybody know they’re not into doing the whole doormats thing for another season.

“Last season was frustrating,” Skoronski said. “We don’t have to go through that again.”

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