Brian Arnfelt should be on Northwestern's "good hands" team.
Though a lineman's hands often are called paws, Arnfelt uses his digits to play the keyboard in his apartment. His affinity for piano comes from his mother, Cathy, who owns a music studio in Lake Elmo, Minn.
"I dabble," Arnfelt said. "I can play the Muppets theme song, nothing too elaborate."
Arnfelt's hands are also a major reason Northwestern swept its nonconference slate. He forced a fumble in the Vanderbilt and Boston College games and recovered a loose ball Saturday against South Dakota.
"If you can't get to the ball carrier," Arnfelt said, "you try to affect him some way."
NU's run defense ranks 11th in the country, up from 84th last season. The Wildcats are giving up 2.8 yards per carry, down from 4.5.
"We're just getting started," Arnfelt said. "We're really focused on getting better every day. As long as I've been here, I don't think there's been a team that has more fun coming out and practicing. And it shows on Saturday."
The fifth-year senior broke a bone in his right foot before the 2011 season, then re-injured it at Indiana, NU's opponent Saturday.
But the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder has come back to fortify NU's defensive line.
"I'm really proud of him," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "He has worked hard to overcome a ton. Now that he has that chance to be a full-time starter, he has been really solid through four games.
"Now the heavy lifting comes, against Big Ten offensive linemen and an (Indiana) offense that plays with tempo."
A step up: Northwestern has promoted Jim Phillips from athletic director to vice president for athletics and recreation, perhaps a nod to his diligence in gaining approval for the school's $220 million multipurpose on-campus facility.
Fitzgerald, who views the lakeside recruiting-and-training facility as a "game-changer" for his program, was asked when he hopes it will open and replied: "2012. That's the way I'm approaching it. Can't be fast enough."
NU officials said the construction timetable will depend on fundraising. Will Fitzgerald lend a hand in that effort?
Fitzgerald replied that he'll do whatever university President Morton Schapiro and Phillips ask of him. But he said coaching will remain "my No. 1 priority."
In tribute: NU players will wear stickers on their helmets to mark the loss of Leon Brockmeier, who died Saturday of natural causes at 34. Brockmeier started 35 games at offensive tackle for the Wildcats and made second-team All-Big Ten for the 2000 conference co-champions. NU coaches will wear a Coach to Cure MD patch Saturday to raise awareness of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
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