2005. It’s the last time that a player from Northwestern went on to become a first-round draft pick. Luis Castillo, a name that seems like it was from so long ago, was the last prospect to hear his name called during the first night of the draft by the then-San Diego Chargers. Interestingly enough, this year, the program has a chance to produce two players that could hear their name called during the opening night of one of the biggest events on the NFL calendar.
Offensive tackle Rashawn Slater is widely regarded as one of the top offensive tackles of this crop and is projected to eventually become a top-15 selection. On the other hand, Greg Newsome II has made a strong rise during the pre-draft cycle.
2020 was a huge season of firsts for Newsome II. He recorded his first career interception against Wisconsin, but his most impressive feat was that out of cornerbacks with at least 20 targets into their coverage, he was tops in the country with the least amount of yards surrendered (83 yards, per Sports Info Solutions).
Since playing his final game against Ohio State, where he would only play in the first half after leaving due to an injury, his stock has continued to soar even following that low moment in the Big Ten Championship Game. Newsome II shows a blend of quickness, versatility, and swiftness as a mover. His technique is polished and he’s collected a wealth of experience as both an inside and outside corner. With that type of resume and traits to match, he’s become one of the fastest rising prospects of the 2021 draft cycle.
I spent a few days this week getting to know the former Northwestern standout as we talked about growing up in Chicago, his interesting high school journey that led him to the state of Florida prior to winding up back home, and then reflected back on his collegiate career.
Question: I want to go all the way back to your childhood and talk about your football journey. How did you get involved in the game?
N: It’s really a crazy story. Being from Illinois, it’s considered a basketball state, so I’m thinking that I was going to play basketball in college. That was my dream. Around the sixth grade, my mom actually took me out of AAU basketball and I started with a travel 7-on-7 league. That’s kind of where my football journey began.
Q: You’re an Illinois guy. Was Derrick Rose like a God to you growing up?
N: Ah man. I love Derrick Rose. He’s still one of my favorite players of all time still, but (laughs), I’m a LeBron fan. Wherever he goes, that’s where I’m most definitely going.
Q: I want to touch on your high school career a bit. So you start the first three years of your career at Glenbard North and then transfer to IMG Academy (Florida). I want to talk about those initial years though. What did you learn there?
N: I actually started off on the freshman team. We ended up winning the conference and I played safety and receiver primarily. I got moved up after the last game of the season. Jumping into my sophomore year, I moved all the way up to varsity and received first-team all-conference and led the team in interceptions. I think I was second in the state too. As a junior, that was my best season. We should’ve won the state championship, but lost on a hail mary pass to East St. Louis.
Q: After that, you transfer down to IMG for your senior season. What were some of the reasons that you wanted to go there and then reflecting back on it, what were some of the biggest things that you learned while you were there?
N: Like I said earlier, Illinois is a big basketball state and there’s a ton of athletes, but I knew going to school at IMG would prepare me more for the next level and I’d be playing against better competition each week. I know that corner is a very hard position to start as a true freshman at in college football, but that was one of my goals. IMG helped me achieve that. Now, I’m looking back at it, I learned a lot.
One essential thing that I learned was that nothing is given. I really learned that just being an underrecruited guy too. Each week I had to fight for my starting spot. That made the transition from high school to college not as bad for me just because we’re on that same schedule and I had that same mindset that everybody was good and I had to prove myself every single day.
Q: You ended up choosing Northwestern, but you had some other big names schools after you during your recruitment process. What made you go back home and attend school there?
N: I’m from Illinois and I’m a big family guy. Just knowing that my family would be at every single home game every week. I could always go home if I needed to too. Just remembering that, that was one of the reasons. Also, coach Fitzgerald is one of the best in all of college football. I wanted a coach that I knew would be there my entire college career. My parents instilled in me the academic part of things as well, so academics was a huge part of it as well.
Q: I want to hear from you. When these NFL teams ask you, what are some things that Greg Newsome II brings to the table when he walks through the door as a rookie, what would be some of the qualities that you say?
N: I’m always going to give it my all. I’m never going to take a rep off. You’re also going to get a competitor. I don’t like to lose reps. You can see in my play from this season, I hate giving up any type of passes. I think I gave up too many yards last season even though it was a small amount.
You’re going to get a guy that’s going to compete every single day. A natural-born leader, I bring guys with me and as a natural-born leader, I expect greatness from my teammates every day. If a teammate is not doing his job, I don’t care if he is a 10-year vet or two-year player, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to hold them accountable.
Q: On the flip side, what are some things that you want to add to your game?
N: Trusting in my abilities in all commands. Sometimes I’m a little too hesitant when I’m playing. Trusting my eyes and technique fully are definitely two areas that I want to add to my game.
Q: Something that’s come up frequently with you is your durability and some of the injuries that you’ve had to endure throughout your career. What I want to know is how have you been able to stay strong-minded and persevere through the injuries that you have suffered.
N: Like you said, injuries are a part of the game. I’ve had my fair share of injuries and a lot of teams have asked me about that. I’m coming at 100% every single rep and that’s what happened to me last year. I actually got hurt in practice. Just because I’m going as hard as I can and I’m going to give it my all on every single rep. I know that football is my chosen path and that injuries are going to happen. I’ve never had any surgeries or anything like that, so the setbacks weren’t too major, but that’s just the way that I play.
Q: My two favorite performances from you this past season were the first half against Ohio State and then against Nebraska. They let you play both off and press-man, but what’s your favorite type of coverage to play?
N: I’m a pressman guy. That’s all I like doing. Me pressing at the line of scrimmage has given our team so much flexibility that they can trust me on an island and rotate the coverage the other way to help some other guys out. I love traveling with whoever the other best guy on the team is and taking that challenge of eliminating him from the game plan, but definitely, pressman is my favorite type of coverage.