Feb. 3, 2010
By Skip Myslenski, NUsports.com Special Contributor
* They were not exactly like expectant fathers when they stirred awake on Wednesday, that day when their recruits would officially sign their national letters-of-intent. But the coaches on the 'Cat football staff did start shuffling into their offices as early as 5:30 a.m. "But we're not on pins and needles," the recruiting coordinator Adam Cushing would insist later that morning. "We're excited and there's a group of men with coffee in their hands at 6 a.m. waiting for the first East Coast fax to come in. But it's not a nervous, what if (feeling)."
"This year was maybe a little different," head coach Pat Fitzgerald soon explained. "We had so many kids wrapped up early (it was) more making sure we had them educated on what was going to happen in January. Coaching changes. Schools are going to come in on you. Think about that. Think about what that means and how you weren't good enough for the previous staff. What has changed? Nothing. They're just trying to scramble and get a class. There was a lot of that maybe two, three weeks ago and maybe as recently as last week. But the last 48 hours were probably less stressful than the last few years."
* In the beginning, said Fitzgerald, each of his coaches had over 100 prospects on his list, which means that list initially held some 1,000 names. And in the end? "We had 42 relationships, meaning we offered them and had a two-way communication," he went on. "So (with 17 recruits signed) that's about 40 percent. That's a pretty good hit ratio."
* Thirteen of the 17 were captains of their teams and, together, their senior season record was 131-62 (68 percent). They were culled from 10 states and include four receivers, three defensive linemen and three defensive backs, a pair of linebackers, a pair of offensive lineman, a pair of quarterbacks and a running back.
* Oh. Their combined GPA is 3.5.
* The lone Illinois signee in the class is Chance Carter, a 6-foot-3, 240 pound defensive end who grew up in Evanston and starred at Loyola. "We've known about him a long time. We've really known about him since he was a sophomore, at least," said Cushing, but Carter was not the easiest of catches.
"He went through just about every part of the recruiting process you can possible go through," Cusahing went on, referring to the attention given Carter by Nebraska and Stanford and Notre Dame and countless others.
And how did he finally end up with the 'Cats?
"It's developing a personal relationship and it's how interested is he in coming over to see us," said Cushing. "Early, I think he was interested in seeing what everyone else had. I think he thought he knew about Northwestern because he was so close, so he only visited one time early in the recruiting process. Then, after he went and saw what everyone else had, he said, 'Maybe I don't know everything there is to know about Northwestern.' So he came back and, all of a sudden, the personal relationship we had developed really blossomed."
What did he learn?
"He didn't about the people here. He didn't know coach Fitz personally. He didn't know (defensive line) Coach (Marty) Long personally. And he didn't know our young men. That's what we always talk about is the players. His opportunity to spend time with the players, I think, is what really started it."
* Carter, by the way, was a highly regarded basketball prospect just two years ago.
* This is what Fitzgerald had to say about Carter. "If he grows into his size 18 feet, look out."
* The quality of this class, of course, will not be determined for many seasons. But it can already be said that it comes complete with first names fit for the films. For it includes not only a Chance, but also a Chi Chi, a C.J, an Ibraheim, a Kain, a Collin, a Rashad, a Venric, a Trevor and an Adonis.
* The given names of Chi Chi Ariguzo, a linebacker from outside Columbus, are Ikechi Leonard. C.J. Bryant, a cornerback, is from the same Ohio city as Ariguzo (Gahanna), but went to a different high school. Ibraheim Campbell, who's projected as a safety, is "Ib" to his friends and starred as both a defender and runner at Chestnut Hill Academy outside Philadelphia. ("He had offers from some schools just at defensive back, some just at running back. We offered him to play whatever he wanted because he's that good of a player," said Cushing.)
Kain Colter is a quarterback from outside Denver who verbally committed to Stanford last April, de-committed in December and committed to the 'Cats just last month. "We didn't really stay in contact with him (after his commitment to Stanford)," Cushing said of his signing. "(But) when Stanford told Kain he wasn't necessarily in school, once that happened he started to get a little suspicious and wanted to investigate other options. We said until he de-committed from Stanford, we're not going to investigate. I think that's what he liked about us. We kept our word. Once he committed, we backed away until he reached out to us."
Collin Ellis is a linebacker from outside Baton Rouge whose tiny school had produced just one previous BCS scholarship player (Todd Kinchen, who was an All-SEC receiver at LSU). Rashad Lawrence is a wide receiver from Olympia High School in Orlando where he played with Trevor Siemian, a quarterback who is also part of this 'Cat class. Venric Mark, a Nigerian, is a speedy wide receiver and kick returner from Houston whose full name is Venric Emeka-Wococha Mark. (How fast is he, Fitzgerald was asked? "Fast," he said simply). Which brings us to Adonis Smith, the running back whose Oakland high school is also the alma mater of Barry Bonds, Tom Brady and Lynn Swann.
The 'Cats had been on him for a long time, but initially he chose Washington State as his school of choice. "He got a little nervous about having a scholarship in Washington and was worried they were going to give the spot away," explained Cushing. "Once a young man commits somewhere, Coach Fitz is always great about calling and saying, 'Congratulations. Best of luck. We're not going to recruit you anymore. And why did that happen? Is there anything we can fix for ourselves in the future?' The young man at that point said, 'It wasn't that I chose them over you. I chose something over nothing.' We said, 'OK. If you're still interested in us, you've got to open it back up.' That's what he did."
Something over nothing?
"He was nervous a spot would be gone for him at Washington State and assumed our spot would be there if he wanted to fall back into it. So he wanted to make sure that there was something."
* Let us return, for a moment, to Ellis, the linebacker from Louisiana. He is an avid bow hunter who drives a diesel pickup with mud tires and custom rims and who used the $200 he got from his folks as an 18th birthday present to buy himself a new fishing rod. After signing with the 'Cats, a writer down his way suggested that Chicago might be a culture shock for him. Replied Ellis: "I'm going to shock them."
* Brandon Vitable, another member of this class, also has fairly-spiffy name. More importantly, he has an even better resume as a 6-foot-3, 295-pound center who chose the 'Cats over a long list that included Michigan State. When asked by his local paper about his decision, the aspiring business major noted: "They have the number-three ranked MBA program. It'd be great if I could graduate in five years with a master's degree."
* Last spring, in the wake of his team's loss in the Alamo Bowl, Fitzgerald said that the exposure the 'Cats received on that Monday night telecast opened doors for them in recruiting. Did that prove out? "Certainly, and we're seeing it again with the current juniors we're recruiting from the January 1st bowl game," said Cushing. "Everybody that we just signed saw us play in that bowl game last year. And everybody came to visit us early in the recruiting process and that's what we've found is key to getting the talented players, get them here early. And they all came to see us because of what they saw us do on national TV. So is there one specific player. No. But I think the entire class, to a person, said, 'I saw that game.'"
"Without a doubt, especially initially when we were getting to know the young men and their families," echoed Fitzgerald himself. "Their first impression was our game with Missouri. I'd say the same thing with some of the kids nationally and locally with this year's game (the Outback Bowl) for the 2011 class. We have so many kids excited. Success breeds success."
* Here is what the 'Cat coaches did Wednesday morning to celebrate their signing successes. "We," said Fitzgerald, "just watched probably 20 kids in the junior class this morning as a whole staff. Then we got those young people on the phone through their high schools coaches or social medium. So at the end of the day it never ends. We put this class to bed and we're full speed ahead on 2011."
"I feel great today. We've certainly begun the Northwestern portion of these young men's careers and we're excited to get a chance to develop them," said Cushing. "But we've also been on the phone today with juniors that we've offered and want to begin that relationship. We're encouraging them to come visit. So I'm excited for the beginning of the next step, but also for the chance to start developing our relationship with the 2011 graduates."
So he won't celebrate tonight?
"I'll get a chance to go home and have dinner with my wife. That'll be nice."