Northwestern sophomore wide receiver Bryce Kirtz and senior quarterback Hunter Johnson's relationship began nearly five years ago in Brownsburg, Indiana. Here, in this town of 26,046 people, sprouted the dynamic that would lead to Kirtz leading all Northwestern receivers in receptions and yards in the season opening loss to Michigan State. This was also Johnson's first game as the Wildcats' starter since 2019, and he connected with Kirtz for seven receptions and 80 yards. For Johnson, it was just like high school again.
"It's not very often that you get to play with a high school teammate in college ball," Johnson said. "It's definitely having that chemistry that’s been great ... We've been throwing together for five-ish years now and having that past from high school and that chemistry just is just huge."
This chemistry was evident on arguably the most crucial of Kirtz's seven catches,a five-yard slant on fourth down as the Wildcats were attempting to come back from a large deficit. Kirtz made the sure-handed grab as a Michigan State cornerback was draped all over him, moving the chains for a first down.
It's Kirtz's job to help Johnson get comfortable in an offense that seemed to make everything too difficult for itself in its loss to the Spartans on Friday. With Kirtz being one of the only returning receivers with game experience, his role is to be a safety blanket or a reliable target for Johnson. This is somewhat of a role reversal from 2017, when Kirtz first made the varsity roster at Brownsburg High School.
"Hunter helped me adjust and made me feel way more comfortable out there," Kirtz said of his time with Johnson at Brownsburg High. "Just telling me 'you got it' and giving me confidence. He taught me how to play football at a higher level and now here in college."
Overall, Kirtz came away with a lot of positives from Johnson's performance on Friday. Kirtz said that Johnson did a "really nice job of controlling the offense," while never losing his cool when things went awry. Kirtz did acknowledge that there are some things the two need to clean up, in order to be an "even more explosive" offense.
Kirtz and Johnson aim to reignite the fireworks that set off Brownsburg High. In 2017, Johnson and Kirtz connected for 11 touchdowns and 831 receiving yards. If the duo can make Ryan Field seem like CF Roark Stadium (Brownsburg's home turf), the Wildcats should bounce back against Indiana State on Saturday in a big way.
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