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As Northwestern Wildcats Prepare To Take Field, QB Battle Brews Between Hunter Johnson And Ryan Hilinski; Joe Spivak Gets No. 1 Jersey

EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) -- The Wildcats will open their season at home the first Friday of September against Michigan State.

A battle is brewing at quarterback. Hunter Johnson is a senior who saw playing time in just two games during last year's shortened season, while Ryan Hilinski transferred from South Carolina – where he also played only two games last year.

Hilinski is fighting for the role for more than just himself. His brother, Tyler, was a quarterback at Washington State – his jersey number was 3.

Tyler Hilinski committed suicide in 2018.

The last team Ryan Hilinski's brother faced as Michigan State, also the first team the Wildcats will play.

"You know, it's extra motivation, because Tyler's last game that he ever played in college was against Michigan state – and he lost. I want to redeem him," Hilinski said. "I carry him physically. I've got this tattoo on my wrist – it's a lighthouse in Hawaii where I spread Tyler's ashes with my family. I've got a tattoo of a 3 here on my ribs – so physically, I carry him on my body. Going onto that field, you know, I say, 'All right, Ty, let's rock.'"

Meanwhile, senior defensive lineman Joe Spivak earned the coveted number one jersey this year, given annually to the player considered the ultimate Wildcat. Spivak's high energy is infectious both on and off the football field – but for the defensive player, he really wants a chance at catching a touchdown and letting everyone know it.

"The other quarterbacks over there, they know what the deal is. They want it too. But we'll see. I mean obviously, that'd be great – any way I can help the team to win, it includes going up an A-gap, I don't know, going out to the flat for a little pass – we'll see what happens," Spivak said. "But you can believe I'm in their ear about it."

Spivak said he had "brick hands" last year before the season, and he's been working on his catches for the past two years.

The Wildcats will open their season on Friday, Sept. 3, so it will be Friday Night Lights in Evanston.

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