Signing Day is Wednesday and with the news today that 4-star wide receiver James Clark has eliminated Northwestern from his final three. The Florida product told the Orlando Sentinel he is picking between Ohio State, Florida and Clemson. He still plans to make his announcement Wednesday morning.
That news takes away from the suspense of Signing Day as Northwestern 19-commitment class is probably finalized now.
Since it is Signing Day Week, we have a lot of new Wildcats to meet. We will slowly begin meeting them as we get to Signing Day on Wednesday. A great way to start is by talking to Northwestern’s reporter for Rivals, Louis Vaccher. LTP had the chance to talk to Louie to preview Signing Day:
LTP: Assuming NU doesn’t land James Clark (eds. note: this interview was conducted before today’s news regarding Clark), it appears that 4-star QB Matt Alviti is clearly the highlight of this class (11th ranked QB in country — or update it based on your latest). I’ve been tracking Godwin Igwebuike this past year on your site and he seems to be an absolute stud at RB. Who are your top three players not named Alviti in this class?
Louie Vaccher: Alviti is the headliner, but here would be my next three:
1. Godwin Igwebuike, RB/S. I agree with you on this guy. He’s a very dynamic and explosive athlete who, in my mind, should be a four-star. He was an absolute beast against the highest level of competition in Ohio. The exciting thing is that I think he can be an impact player on either side of the ball — as a running back or a safety.
2. Kyle Queiro, CB/S. He is another athlete that can play multiple positions. He was initially recruited as a safety, but coaches want him to
start his career at cornerback now. He’s 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, so the fact that NU thinks he has the skills to play corner says a lot about what
kind of an athlete he is.
3. Tyler Lancaster, G/C. Lancaster was an under-the-radar type of recruit until attending a Nike Football Training Camp at Illinois last spring. His performance there wowed college coaches and Nike, who invited him to the prestigious The Opening event for the top 150 prospects in the country. He earned an offer at an NU camp in early June and he jumped on it the same day.
LTP: Based on the needs for NU – secondary, OL and RB, – how well do you think we solved those holes?
Louie: I think NU did an outstanding job in those areas in particular. Igwebuike is a natural, and Queiro, Keith Watkins, Matt Harris and Marcus McShepard will add a lot of speed and athleticism to the cornerback position. On the offensive line, they picked up interior linemen Lancaster and Brad North, as well as tackles Sam Coverdale and Blake King. And at running back, they added some size with a pair of California 200-pounders, Warren Miles Long and Xavier Menifield. I would say that, more than addressing any particular needs, the Wildcats really added a lot of speed with this class. They have four prospects listed as “athletes,” and that’s recruiting shorthand for fast, athletic guys that could play multiple positions. Most of them will
wind up on defense.
LTP: You recently ran a post about the marked increase in Wildcat commits BEFORE the season even starts. Can you share that trend with the LTP readership?
Louie: The acceleration of recruiting has been remarkable in recent years. From head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s first class in 2007, through this Class of 2013, an increasingly larger number of players committed before the season and an increasingly smaller number committed after the kickoff of the first game.
Here’s the number of Northwestern signees that committed before the season, by class:
2007: 12 of 19 before the season (63.2 percent) (Fitzgerald took over after the sudden death of Randy Walker in July and got an immediate spike in
2008: 8 of 20 (40)
2009: 6 of 18 (33)
2010: 8 of 17 (47.1)
2011: 11 of 17 (64.7)
2012: 16 of 21 (76.2)
2013: 17 of 19 (89.5)
In the last three classes, Northwestern has had a great majority of its work done by the start of the season. That enabled coaches to start recruiting the next class and continue the cycle of early commits.
LTP: Where does this class look like it will finish in the Rivals recruiting rankings?
Louie: Rivals currently has Northwestern ranked at No. 50 overall and No. 8 in the Big Ten. Now, that ranking could go up if the Wildcats land Clark, a
four-star receiver, but chances are that’s where they will end up. However, Rivals’ ratings should all be taken with a grain of salt. Not only is player
evaluation an inexact science, but Rivals’ rankings formula also favors larger classes, which works against a program like Northwestern, which very
rarely loses players to grades or transfers and therefore has relatively small classes every year.
LTP: Where does this class fit in the Fitz era in terms of rankings?
Louie: If Northwestern holds at No. 50, that would be Fitzgerald’s highest-ranked class. Never before has Fitzgerald’s classes been ranked higher than 53rd nationally (2007) or 9th in the Big Ten (2007, 2009 and 2012).
LTP: Fitz made it clear that he doesn’t give a hoot about stars, rankings or the like, and they are confident in their approach to identify and groom talent. Who do you believe are the potential instant impact players in this class and which ones are players you’d put your money on in the long term?
Louie: We all know that Fitz likes to redshirt as many guys as possible, so picking instant impact players is as difficult as the next Harbaugh family reunion.
I think Igwebuike is a player that could contribute right away. He has college-ready size and speed, and he’s so versatile coaches will be able to
plug him into an area of need on either side of the ball. Another guy that could have a shot is running back Warren Miles Long. Rivals’ recruiting analyst Justin Rowland scouted him recently (subscribers only) and said that Long was bigger and faster than he expected and has exceptional hands.
Long term, the obvious pick is Alviti. He is a true dual-threat and is an ideal fit for NU’s offense, which, incidentally, is very similar to the one he ran at Park Ridge (Ill.) Maine South. Another strong candidate is Watkins, who was a standout running back at Ohio state champion Cincinnati Moeller but will play cornerback for NU. He has the tools to be a special corner once he learns how to play the position.
LTP: Which guy is your sleeper in this class?
Louie: I’m going to go with Tommy Fuessel (pronounced FEE-zull), who was a dual-threat QB at Frankfort (Ill.) Lincoln-Way East. He does not project as a college quarterback, so I think a lot of coaches overlooked him. Plus, he committed to Northern Illinois in June before re-opening his recruitment after Thanksgiving once rumors about Dave Doeren moving on started swirling. NU offered him on a Thursday and he committed two days later. Coaches love big kids that can run and Fuessel is a 6-foot-3, 180-pounder that can fly. He could play wide receiver or safety, or even outside linebacker. My guess is that he’ll be a receiver.
LTP: Obviously, the class was pretty much set by the time we won the Gator Bowl. However, the 2014 recruiting seems to be pretty hot and heavy right now. What type of uptick in NU likely gets are you seeing from a year ago?
Louie: The Northwestern football “brand” seems to get stronger and stronger every year. Fitzgerald has now been to five straight bowls, and now he even has a bowl win to tout. NU is already among the favorites for guys like four-star cornerback Parrker Westphal of Bolingbrook (Ill.) and four-star linebacker Otaro Alaka from Houston (Texas) Cypress Falls.
But this year could be “the year of the little brother” for NU. The Cats have the inside track on four-star DE Garrett Dickerson, Cameron’s younger brother, as well as LB Cameron Quiero, Kyle’s younger sibling. All conveniently are from Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic. Hunter Bates’s younger brother Dillon is also a four-star linebacker, but NU seems to be a longshot with him. There’s also Tito Odenigbo, younger brother of Ifeadi, who is a 6-foot-3, 241-pound defensive end. If NU can keep it all in the family, it could be a big year.
PRR: Stepping back in here. Our thanks to Louie Vaccher for taking the time to talk to us about Northwestern recruiting and this year’s class. We will have plenty more on Signing Day including a preview with Scout’s Chris Emma. Be sure to check out Louie’s great work on Wildcat Report.