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Blue Collar Mentality: How Chris Bergin Became the Soul of the Northwestern Defense

Coaches raved about his work ethic as a freshman. Now a senior, Bergin is tasked with passing it on to the younger Wildcats.

If you look up “Chris Bergin Northwestern” on Youtube, one of the first videos that comes up is of the senior linebacker along with his brother Joe Bergin (a former defensive back at Northwestern) detailing the work they put in as former walk-ons, and what makes them special. A line said by Director of Player Development Jacob Schmidt stands out when describing Bergin. “What they [Chris and Joe Bergin] may lack in size and speed, they definitely make up for it with attitude and passion for football.”

This attitude and passion led Chris Bergin from being a walk-on to totaling 227 tackles in four years at Northwestern, playing his way onto the Honorable Mention All-Big Ten list in 2020. This offseason, Bergin added another notch on his storied career: a spot on the Butkus Award Watch List.

“You know that he's earned [the nomination] on the field,” Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Seems like Chris has been here for 50 years, but he’s relentless in his work ethic and it’s paid off.”

Bergin will take on the role as leader of a defense that has to replace a lot of talent, especially at linebacker. Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher are in the NFL, leaving “The Irish Law Firm” looking for attorneys to lay down the law in the middle of the defense. In addition, legendary Defensive Coordinator Mike Hankwitz is no longer leading the defense from the sidelines, that title now belongs to Jim O’Neil. However, Bergin sees the amount of potential the group has.

“It’s a very talented group,” Bergin said of the younger players at linebacker. “I think we haven’t really lost a beat in terms of not only the personnel we have on defense but the transition from coach to coach. What we’ve learned from [Coach O’Neil] in such a short period of time has been a blessing, and I think we can have a good season as a defense.”

The ability is there for the Wildcat defense to continue its elite play from last year. Although the group is headlined by Bergin and All-American safety Brandon Joseph, Northwestern will reload with highly ranked recruits such as Mac Uihlein at linebacker. 

Bergin credits Fitzgerald for finding talent, especially at the linebacker position, but also calls Northwestern “the best developers of talent in the country.” 

“We do such a good job of building guys starting from the fundamentals or technique and then growing them from special teams and transitioning them into the scheme of our defense,” Bergin said. “I think that's why we've been so successful and why we haven't really lost a beat in the last couple of years.”

One of those players that has grown from playing on special teams to potentially becoming a starter is senior linebacker Peter McIntyre. Bergin mentioned McIntyre as a guy for fans to watch out for when the Wildcats begin the season. “[McIntyre] had an awesome spring and unbelievable offseason,” Bergin said. “He's been one of the best special teams players in the Big Ten the last couple years, and finally getting to see him have his opportunity has been so cool.”

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Despite the new blood coming in, Bergin will continue to lead the Wildcats with his passion and attitude, describing the defense as a “white collar school with a blue collar mentality.”

“Our defense plays with a hard nosed mentality,” Bergin said. “That’s our pride and that’s our edge.”

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