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Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald has new motivational tactic

Updated: April 1, 2013 11:55AM

It wouldn’t be the offseason for Northwestern football without a theme. Improving chemistry was the mantra at this time last year, and it contributed to a 10-3 season and the Wildcats’ first bowl victory since 1949.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald hopes emphasizing how NU held fourth-quarter leads in all three of its losses last season produces similar improvement.

‘‘We were 5 minutes and 3 seconds away from being undefeated,’’ Fitzgerald said after the Wildcats’ first spring practice Wednesday. ‘‘That’s an incredible motivator.

‘‘We looked hard at the reasons why that happened, and it’s one thing to talk about it and another thing to create those habits. So in all of our workouts, we have created 5:03 worth of work. And it just doesn’t come at the end of the workout; it can come at any time where we go into that phase where we need better focus, execution, technique, finish, communication.’’

Players even have ‘‘5:03’’ printed on their workout shirts.

‘‘It’s the difference between us going to the Big Ten championship game and where we were last year,’’ quarterback Trevor Siemian said. ‘‘It’s a big motivating factor for us and a way for our guys to rally in the weight room and on the field.’’

Fitzgerald said finding replacements for graduating seniors, continuing to develop depth and open-field tackling also will be emphasized this spring.

The spring scrimmage is scheduled for April 13.

Dueling QBs

Fitzgerald said Siemian and Kain Colter will continue to share quarterback duties next season.

‘‘The way [offensive coordinator] Mick [McCall] and our offensive staff were able to put together a plan to use both Kain’s and Trevor’s skill sets gave us a chance to win a championship,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘Now we just have to keep honing that package and making it better.’’

On the mend

Twelve players, including starting tackle Jack Konopka, starting cornerback Nick VanHoose and receiver Kyle Prater, are recovering from injuries and won’t participate in spring practice. Fitzgerald said all 12 will be ready to resume training later this spring.

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