The biggest news at Northwestern’s Spring Game on Saturday had more to do with someone who wasn’t even on the team. By now you know that Matt Alviti, the 9th ranked dual threat QB in the country (Rivals.com) committed to Northwestern over Michigan State, Nebraska and at one point, Notre Dame. You also know by now head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s loathing of recruiting rankings. However, landing Maine South’s (Park Ridge, IL) state champion QB is significant for many reasons.
First, we were in great demand of a 2013 QB after not securing one in the 2012 class. Quarterback was a top priority for Fitz & Co. this recruiting season and Matt Alviti was at the top of the ‘Cats wish list. With Alviti likely redshirting, his first season of eligibility will come after Kain Colter is gone and Trevor Siemian is an upper classman. I’ve got high hopes for both Siemian and Oliver, but you can bet Alviti will be challenging the incumbents from day one.
It is worth inserting the inevitable caveat here as it relates to any QB becoming a “sure thing”. Northwestern has quite a few can’t miss kids in the QB recruiting annals and one just need look back to our program’s Sidd Finch, Lloyd Abrahamson as the case in point (albeit he decided to quit football as opposed to underperform to expectations) and who can forge the buzz surrounding Gavin Hoffman in the late 90s? I put that in there to try and get out in front of the commenters who may think I’m in “annointing” mode. I’m not. However, there is no denying this is the most touted high school QB we’ve nabbed in the Pat Fitzgerald era. When you consider how strong of a position that has been for us during his tenure, those are strong words.
The second significant sign from Alviti’s signing is that Fitz’s crew is proving that despite a downward trending win total, the uptick in the level of talent wanting to come to Evanston is undeniable. All you had to do was key in on the youth movement on Saturday on defense to pass the naked eye test of young guns like Deonte Gibson, Chance Carter and the surprise of the lot, Nick VanHoose. They are quick, agile and bring it with authority. We’re at the point now in the Fitz era when you can nearly script a commitment’s quotes on why they ultimately chose Northwestern. Words like “fit” and “respect” and phrases like “the academics are tough to top” all meld together in what seems like an entire class’ uniquote. Here is what Alviti had to say to EdgyTim of Rivals.com:
“Northwestern for me is just the perfect fit. As a quarterback I can’t think of a better offense to run than the Northwestern offense. It’s just a really good fit for me and I also just love the coaches and the energy surrounding the football program. Northwestern for me has always been the right fit and the place I want to be. I honestly knew for awhile Northwestern was the team to beat for me…
Also the academics and the education at Northwestern is hard to top. The next four years at Northwestern will prepare me for the next forty years in the real world. You can’t beat a degree from Northwestern.”
Have you seen that type of quote before? Of course you have. The difference now is that we’re getting the quotes from players who are eligible to be in the high school press conference select-a-college-hat derby. This marks the fourth four-star recruit in the past two recruiting classes (Odenigbo, Kuhar, DePietro) and we’ve got a long way to go in this class considering Matt was commit #1. I love the talk about the energy around the program as well. As much as fans are still smarting from the uber disappointing 2011 season, the vibe among recruits is one of a program that is established and on the rise.
Coaches will tell you that one of the best things about a recruit becoming a commit is that they then become the recruiter. Matt Alviti has the chance to become the brand ambassador for the 2013 class, especially considering he is so close to campus. Highly touted RB Malin Jones was commitment #1 for the class of 2012 (the earliest recruit we’ve gotten a commitment from) and he played a big role in trying to convince other guys to join the fun in Evanston. As a QB, Alviti has the potential to be even more of an influence on offensive recruits.
The above mentioned brand ambassadorship is particularly strong within the state lines. Alviti is on a quest to repeat as an Illinois state champion as Maine South is a beast of a football program. All of those “in the know” within his class know his name, respect his talent and will be talking in the stands all fall about how he is going to Northwestern. These little marketing things matter. When a player of this caliber commits to any school, opponents, teammates, fans – they all know and talk about it. Players in the state who respect Matt will also respect his decision and who knows, perhaps the “if you can’t beat him, join him” philosophy. These subtle “marketing” nuances extend beyond the state, however.
The ‘Cats 2012 class sported a pair of four star recruits, but Ifeadi Odenigbo was the headline get of the class. Star power begets star power. Players on the national recruiting circuit cross paths at prestigious camps, all star games and the like. The buzz among them is usually centered around which schools they are each considering. Northwestern, while still far from being in the conversation as a regular destination like a Michigan, Alabama or a Florida, is quickly transforming from a novelty school to one that doesn’t even solicit further questioning.
My favorite part about Matt Alviti’s signing, however, is the fact it overcomes one of the biggest challenges we face compared to so many competitors – Alviti is a Northwestern fan. It is such a simple concept we all overlook, but so few recruits, up until recently, grew up with Northwestern as “their team”. It’s the old state school advantage we talk about so often. Granted, we had this at one point when Fitz was on the field and Northwestern quickly became an adopted team by many people without NU ties. Kirk Cousins spoke last year about being a diehard ‘Cats fan wearing a Fitz and Darnell Autry jersey as a kid. However, I hadn’t seen many recruits saying “I grew up a fan of the ‘Cats” and so many more “I didn’t know anything about them until I started seeing them on the Big Ten Network” type quotes. Alviti made LTP posts many times last year after he was quoted as saying he wants to grow up to be like Dan Persa. Last year, Barrington’s Dan Voltz -one of the nation’s top-ranked linemen – struggled mightily with his decision to go to Wisconsin because of his fandom for Northwestern. This stuff matters. Despite the frustration of the bowl streak, the fact Fitz has the program to four straight bowl games has each passing year of recruits knowing us as a bowl eligible team. Imagine what we can do recruiting-wise when we actually shake the bowl game monkey?
Finally, the first commitment of 2013 helps to stoke the diehard fans like yours truly who look at recruiting as a fun speculation game that helps feed the insatiable beast that is Northwestern football. The ‘Cats got a quick jump in 2011 getting to double digit recruits by the time camps came around. Now that Matt Alviti has signed, we’re hoping the pace of commitments will pick up and we can begin to mentally piece together what the future may hold.
Illini Rivalry Continues To Boil
This is going to be good. I’ve already got the calendar marked for the ‘Cats season finale against “rival” Illinois. We might just get to discard the quotation marks around “rival” as the dormant rivalry is picking up some bigtime steam. After owning the Fighting Illini for much of the time since 1991, the Zooksters beat us in back to back games and have bragging rights that have us annoyed. However, what really ignited the spark was new Illini AD Mike Thomas claiming that Chicago was Illinois territory and taking implicit shots at NU’s “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” moniker. Then, after the Illini beat us in Champaign last year they played “Sweet Home Chicago” over the PA system to pour salt in the wound. Well, the Tim Beckman era has begun and the disdain for Northwestern has become literally visible. The below photo made the rounds on Twitter (@BTNTomDienhart) and came from inside the Illini football facility. Game on!
‘Cats WLAX Continue Unbeaten Streak, Beat #19 Johns Hopkins 16-12
Perhaps this team’s motto should be “playing with fire”. The Northwestern women’s lacrosse team continues to find itself in tight games that they manage to pull out down the stretch. Just 36 hours after pulling out an 8-7 thriller over #3 UNC on Friday night, the ‘Cats staved off a pesky Johns Hopkins squad Sunday afternoon at Lakeside Field. Northwestern moved to 14-0 and will retain the tag as the nation’s top-ranked team. It wasn’t easy, though, and freshman Casey Bocklet played the role of spark plug en route to the victory. NUSports has it all right here.
LTP New Season Ticket Challenge
OK folks, it is time to really start banging the drum. We’ve been barely able to move the needle on NEW season ticket holders as we try and pack Ryan Field purple for 2012. Heck, if we can get 750 people to pony up for an Army game, we sure as heck can get 200 new fans under the Wildcat seaon ticket tent, right? We’re stuck at just 9 to date on our way to a goal of 200. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your success stories of converting new season ticket holders and we’ll add it to the scoreboard on the upper right of this home page.