Northwestern football announces Hunter Johnson as starting QB; RB Cam Porter out for season

ByAdam Rittenberg ESPN logo
Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Northwestern named Hunter Johnson as its starting quarterback for the 2021 season, as the senior beat out South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski and fellow senior Andrew Marty for the top job.

Johnson, who transferred to Northwestern from Clemson before the 2018 season, played mostly in 2019 but struggled, throwing four interceptions and only one touchdown, while completing 46% of his attempts. He spent several weeks away from the team that fall after his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said Johnson has made progress throughout the offseason, and led the quarterback competition after spring practice and into fall camp.

"All three of those top guys have been really competitive and close," Fitzgerald told ESPN on Tuesday. "We came out of spring and this was where we were. We felt like if it was same way after two weeks, let's roll. He's just battle-scarred. He's been through a lot, and he's handled it extremely well. I know Andrew and Ryan will both be ready to go, too."

Northwestern also announced Tuesday that Cam Porter, who finished 2020 as the team's starting running back, will miss the season with a lower-body injury sustained in camp. Porter led Northwestern with 333 rush yards and five touchdowns as the team won its second Big Ten West Division title in three years and finished No. 10 in the final AP poll.

The Wildcats will turn to sophomore Evan Hull, Bowling Green transfer Andrew Clair and freshman Anthony Tyus III at running back with Porter's absence. Reserve offensive lineman Zachary Franks also will miss the season with a lower-body injury sustained in practice.

Johnson, a native of Brownsburg, Indiana, was ESPN's top-rated pocket passer and No. 21 overall player in the 2017 recruiting class. He played in 2017, passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns, before transferring to Northwestern in June 2018. He did not play during the 2018 season, and appeared in only two games last fall behind Peyton Ramsey.

"We expect Hunter to give us every opportunity to win a Big Ten West championship," Fitzgerald said. "He's been through a lot."

Hilinski started the final 11 games for South Carolina in 2019. He transferred to Northwestern midway through spring practice earlier this year.

Northwestern opens its season Sept. 3 at home against Michigan State.