Northwestern has become an aggressive player in big-time college football and, to become more competitive with the elite and tradition-rich programs such as Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame, coach Pat Fitzgerald has changed his recruiting philosophy. And his new strategy seems to be working.
Under Fitzgerald, the Wildcats have become a national recruiter, going head-to-head with the elite programs to sign the best players from coast to coast who can meet Northwestern's tougher academic standards. And Fitzgerald also is eager to get in the front door with the best young prospects.
With that in mind, he received a commitment in October from running back Malin Jones of Joliet Catholic, one of the leading players in the class of 2012 in Illinois. Last weekend, he offered a scholarship to sophomore quarterback Matt Alviti of Maine South. And he also has offered wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp of Montini, another top-rated junior.
College coaches are looking at juniors at this time of year but they want to be aware of the sophomores, even the freshmen. They want to get a jump on everyone else in the recruiting process. They want to persuade the freshmen and sophomores to visit their campus and if they develop, they feel they will have an edge in recruiting them down the line. It's all about public relations.
The class of 2012 in the Chicago area shapes up as one of the best in recent years. At least four of them--Westerkamp, Simeon quarterback Robert Gregory, Glenbard West defensive end Tommy Schutt and Barrington offensive tackle Dan Voltz--will rank among the top 100 prospects in the nation.
I saw Westerkamp's junior film. But when I saw him in the state championship game last Saturday, I said he is a Big 10 receiver without a doubt. He isn't as big or as athletic at last year's star, Proviso West's Kyle Prater (a redshirt at USC), but he is a better receiver. He catches the ball away from his body, catches the ball in stride, runs precise routes, has good separation speed and always seems to get open despite double coverage. He also has been offered by Illinois.
Schutt also is a Big 10 prospect. He has natural football instincts for a big guy. He has great feet and explosive moves. He will be one of the most recruited players in the nation next year. To date, he has nine offers, including Illinois, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska.
I also was impressed by Alviti's performance in the state championship game. Honestly, I didn't realize he was only a sophomore. He has great mobility and a good arm. He is a good field general, a take-charge guy, and he looks effortless in everything he does. Sometimes Maine South quarterbacks reach their peak in high school. None of them have made it in college but they continue to be the best in the state year after year. Is it the system more than the quarterback?
Alviti might be the exception. Look at his production. He didn't become a fulltime starter until Week 3, after Maine South lost its first two games, then went on to complete 183 of 281 passes for 3,066 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed 153 times for 577 yards and 12 touchdowns while guiding the Hawks on an 11-game winning streak that led to their third state championship in a row. In the state final, he ran for one touchdown and was 16 of 21 for 224 yards and one touchdown. No wonder NU coach Pat Fitzgerald took the leap.