Feb. 2, 2011
By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor
Pat Fitzgerald gives the order. "The guy's name, write this down, is Rob Larkin," he says. "Rob Larkin's the guy who snowplows our street up in Northfield, Rob pulled me out of my driveway. Chained it, got me to Willow, and then from Willow in it was unbelievable. Rob Larkin."
And what time did he reach his office Wednesday morning?
"Probably got here at 5:55."
So Cush (recruiting coordinator Adam Cushing) got in earlier?
"Yeah. But he wouldn't have been if I had gotten out of my driveway earlier. Rob was working the street, I flagged him down, he came, he hooked me up underneath and pulled me out. It was awesome."
Cushing, who lives in downtown Evanston, had no trouble reaching his office by 5:45. "I got a big SUV. It got me here," he says simply.
And did he see anyone else out at that hour?
"There were a couple people walking down the middle of the street if you can believe it. But that was it."
This Wednesday was the day their recruits could sign the National Letter of Intent. That is why Fitzgerald and Cushing and the rest of the 'Cat coaches were on campus early, and by 9:30 a.m. CT they had received the necessary paperwork from each of the 17 prospects they had offered. But that does not mean The Storm That Stilled The World did not have any effect on the process. Explains Cushing: "A couple of guys, instead of doing it from school, had to find a drugstore or Kinko's or something that was open. A few guys were able to do it from home because they had a FAX machine. A couple of guys scanned or E-mailed. It was just change of plans. Everybody's in."
Fitzgerald, of course, is excited about the class the 'Cats landed. This makes him no different from any other coach in the country. (Think about it. Have you ever heard one say he landed a crummy class?) But it will not be ranked highly by any in that great cottage industry that operates under the umbrella of Recruiting Services and posts stars next to a player's name. "I could care less what they're rated. Period. . .," Fitzgerald says when that topic is broached. "I don't get too caught up in what other people say about our program, or I don't get too caught up in what people say about me or our coaches or the young people we recruit. We recruit them for a reason. We believe they're a perfect fit and we're excited about them. I still don't understand the definition of what a star means, and that comes from a zero star prospect who was a two-time All American. So. Put that in your pipe and smoke it."
"Very little," Cushing says when asked how much he regards those services. "Certainly it's a great way to get information by what they have on the Internet. But we're going to base everything on our own evaluation and getting them in front of our own eyes and seeing them do things. There're only a certain number of players who are going to get highly ranked. But there're plenty of great football players in the country."
No matter what is said, no matter how many stars are awarded, no matter the grandiosity of the projections made, this is the most-salient truth that must be honored when considering this 'Cat class or the class at any other school. "Time will tell," says Fitzgerald. "That's the great thing about recruiting. It's a great unknown."
These recruits, it should be remembered, are 17- or 18- or 19-year olds who not only have enjoyed success. They also, in all probability, have had plentiful amounts of smoke blown in their face. So keep that in mind and wonder how they will react as you read this from Fitzgerald: "When I visit with each young person, one of the last things I say to them when I'm in their living room is, 'The only way you're going to play as a freshman is if you prepare from today forward like you're going to start for us. I promise you, you will not start and you will not play and you'll redshirt if you feel you've arrived.' It's changing one chapter to another in their lives and they've got to go to work even harder. It's a bigger and greater challenge when you sign a Division I scholarship to come play in the Big Ten. You know, we've got a very competitive football team right now, we've got great talent in our locker room. . .and if anybody in the class wants to compete to start, they better start working their tails off right now."
The point is this. There is no telling who is going to do that, which is why it is impossible to utter superlatives or award stars or make projections with any certainty.
Here are some intriguing numbers about this 'Cat class. "When I look at this group, it's a group of winners," says Fitzgerald. "Seventy percent win percentage (its senior year). It's an extremely bright group. Average GPA of 3.4 and well over a thousand on the SATs. . . A very, very impressive group top to bottom from a success standpoint. I think that's one of the main reasons they bought in to the direction we're headed now. They want to win and they want to take the next step, which is competing for championships year in, year out."
Does he recruit success?
"That's funny. We were talking about that as a staff because we've gone two days in the bunker looking at guys in next year's class (which is heading into its junior year of high school). All the quarterbacks that we're looking at preliminarily here, they're all winners. They've advanced far in the state playoffs or won championships. Successful guys, it usually happens for a reason, and I kind of like being around winners. . . If a kid hasn't been able to lead his high school program to success, it's going to be kind of hard for him to lead his college program."
As for the nuts and bolts, this 'Cat class includes: five players from the Chicago area; four offensive linemen and three defensive linemen; a highly-regarded quarterback from Louisiana named Zack Oliver; and three wide receivers who each are listed at 6-foot-3. One of those from the area is Jarrell Williams out of Richards, whom Fitzgerald says is "A dynamic athlete. Not only did he play in the secondary, he also played a little Wildcat quarterback, he played wide receiver, he's got specialist abilities. So he's the full package."
That prompts us to bring up Venric Mark, the receiver/specialist who showed up last year and gave the 'Cats the kind of speed they have rarely (if ever) had. Is there any in this class who's bringing something new to the table?
"I don't know if it's something new, but I think something that fits what we do," says Fitzgerald. "On offense, Zack. I think he's a really solid quarterback from the standpoint that he can throw the ball. He can really sling it and he runs better than anyone wants to give him credit for. Then on defense, (the 6-foot-3, 220 pound) Deonte Gibson is a young man we targeted at this time last year as someone who could rush the passer. That's not to minimize the other 15. But those two guys, from the standpoint of future competition and future needs, are guys you're going to be hearing about."
Still, and no matter the excitement surrounding this class, the merry-go-round did not stop and, by mid-Wednesday morning, the 'Cat coaches gathered to watch film on prospects for next year's group. They cannot, by rules, call them on this day. But they can contact them through some type of written correspondence and have them call. "What we try to do," explains Cushing, "is wait for our staff meeting when most of the FAXes are in, then we start to watch juniors and wade through all of that before we start sending the E-mails out."
And when did they do that?
"Probably not until 11, 11:30. We watched quite a few players."
"I bet we watched in the last two days 50-some players and probably identified half or so for offers. I don't have the exact figures in front of me."
Have they received any verbal commitments?
"Yes, yes," Adam Cushing says with a smile, and then he holds up one finger. The harvesting has begun again.
Check out the full Skip Myslenski NUsports.com Archive!
Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter, become a fan of Northwestern Athletics on Facebook! and subscribe to the NU Sports Express e-newsletter to receive the latest news, schedule updates and video and to interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!