Sophomore Jeremy Larkin will retire from football, effective immediately, due to a recent diagnosis of cervical stenosis. The condition is not life threatening but prevents continued participation in football.https://t.co/5BZO8naHCn#B1GCatspic.twitter.com/0XKWqvhd1J— Northwestern Football (@NUFBFamily) September 24, 2018
In a press release sent out Monday morning, the Northwestern football team announced that sophomore running back Jeremy Larkin is medically retiring from football, effective immediately. Larkin was diagnosed with cervical stenosis, a condition that causes the spinal canal to narrow around the neck and upper back. While it is not life-threatening, this diagnosis prevents Larkin from playing football going forward.
“Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won’t be on that field again, given I’ve played this game since I was five years old,” Larkin said. “I’m extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first. I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline.”
Starting this fall, Larkin took over as Northwestern's primary running back, and his effectiveness on the field had Wildcats excited about the season to come. In the first three games of the 2018 season, he put up 346 rushing yards, completed 19 catches for 127 yards and scored five touchdowns. As a backup running back in 2017, he was responsible for an additional five touchdowns during his freshman season.
“This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete,” said head football coach Pat Fitzgerald. “But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him. The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can’t wait to see the impact he makes in our world.”
What this means for the 'Cats
As a San Francisco 49ers fan, I am well accustomed to the old adage of Murphy’s law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. After the glorious Jim Harbaugh era of yearly contention, primetime games and January football, the 49ers sputtered to a 2-14 record just two years after Harbaugh’s last season. Every move they made, it seemed, turned into either a dumpster fire or a tragedy worthy of its own Greek play.
Three games into the season, and Murphy’s law appears to be rearing its ugly head in full force. When we thought the state of Northwestern’s football program couldn’t get any worse after losing to (*deep breath*) Akron, sophomore and presumptive bell cow back Jeremy Larkin medically retired. Larkin, who has started all three games for the ‘Cats this season, handily took over the role of Northwestern’s offensive workhorse from former running back Justin Jackson. In a Big Ten West featuring a struggling Nebraska and an unconvincing Wisconsin, this may have been the year for the ‘Cats to grab the bull by the horns and advance to the B1G championship game. Now, with a 1-2 record and games against Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame looming, the ‘Cats will have to fight just for a bowl berth.
Larkin’s value to this team was unquestionable. His 143 yards and 2 touchdowns proved the difference in the nailbiter against Purdue, and his strong efforts against Duke and Akron proved at times to be our only channel for points. His unique combination of vision, patience and physicality will be dearly missed by an offense struggling to find an identity. One can make a strong case for Larkin as the team’s early MVP.
His retirement will open up the backfield to one of an unproven trio of backs in senior John Moten IV, freshman Isaiah Bowser and junior Jesse Brown. Coach Pat Fitzgerald and co. will need some time to decide if one of these three can establish themselves as a three-down back; otherwise, Fitz will turn to a committee. The depth chart lists Moten as the starter with the freshman Bowser as his backup. Moten hasn’t yet shown he can handle a Jackson-like workload, and Larkin’s emergence dropped him to primarily special teams duties last season. If Moten can recover and sustain his 2016 form, where he backed up Jackson and won Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors twice while rushing for 5.9 YPG, the ‘Cats may have a chance in the running game.
Clayton Thorson’s inconsistent play has been well-documented, and he no longer has Larkin to take the pressure off of him. As Thorson slowly comes back from injury, all eyes will be on the backfield. Unfortunately, Northwestern’s opponents contain some of the nation’s stingiest defenses: Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are all ranked in the top 25 in yards allowed per game, while Notre Dame held an otherwise flamethrowing Michigan attack to just 14 points in their opener. Points will come at a premium for the ‘Cats, as will wins.
Northwestern’s season is quickly unraveling amid a spate of uneven performances, poor injury luck, and and an imposing schedule. I would tell you that there’s no place to go but up with the arrival of Clemson transfer quarterback Hunter Johnson next season, but Murphy’s law has a penchant for making itself apparent even when we see light at the end of the tunnel. Even when you think it can’t get any worse, trust me, it can.