Northwestern completed its recruiting class of 15 signees on Wednesday and added a three prospects from the ESPN 300. I recently caught up with Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald to discuss his 2014 class and the recruiting process:
Northwestern obviously isn't the easiest school to get into. What kind of extra challenges does that provide on the recruiting front, that maybe other schools don't have to worry about?
Pat Fitzgerald: I can't say for anyone else, but from our standpoint, we got to get kids to fit our program academically first. And, if they do, then we're usually going to be a pretty good fit for them. So we're looking for that combination for that young man who's a great student and is going to help us compete for championships. We want to find guys that have that balance; it's critical to have both.
What's the easiest high school position to project to the next level -- and what's the hardest?
PF: There's none. None are easy, none are easy. And I think the hardest is quarterback because you typically take one per year. So none are easy. It's all a challenge.
Since you mention QB, ESPN 300 prospect Clayton Thorson (Wheaton, Ill./Wheaton North) is a big signee. What'd you see from him and, looking ahead, is he a guy you definitely anticipate competing for the 2015 job?
PF: Sure. Every kid we sign, we expect to come here to compete to start regardless of position -- or else we wouldn't have signed him. That being said, we felt really strongly about his arm strength, his ability to make all the throws and his athleticism. The tape speaks for itself and, more importantly, it's the way he is as a person. He comes from a great family, and he's an upstanding young man.
If you could change on recruiting rule -- just one -- what would it be?
PF: [Laughs] I think the biggest thing that we've got to look at is the third-party involvement in recruiting. And that's a very general statement, but we really have to look hard at those who are connected to a prospective student-athlete and what benefits we're providing them. We really need to look hard at that. We need to see if there's impropriety and eliminate any patronage that's going on in the process.
You picked up four signees from your home state of Illinois, and you picked up three from Texas. How are you guys able to reach that far, and how do you find out about some of these prospects? Safety Jared McGee wasn't exactly a household name; you jumped on him early.
PF: Our recruiting staff in-house does a terrific job, and our coaches have areas throughout the country. We're a national-in-scope recruiting team, and we go out in those areas that have been productive for us in the past. It's really Chicago, the state of Texas, Ohio and the Eastern seaboard. They've been very productive for us. And we have three coaches down there [in Texas], that spend time there -- Randy Bates, Matt MacPherson and Dennis Springer.
Does your pitch change at all when you're going after recruits from Texas? You did have two decommits from the Lone Star State, after all, so I'd imagine there's a different dynamic.
PF: Yeah, anytime distance is a factor, it's definitely a variable. You try to make sure you explain that to kids up-front and that they understand it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't -- but that's just the nature of recruiting.
You went through the recruiting process as a player yourself back in the early '90s. What's changed the most about recruiting since then?
PF: Oh, it's totally different. Night and day. First of all, you weren't offered a scholarship until after your senior year. Back when I was playing, a handful of guys were maybe offered during their junior year. This kid named Peyton -- who played in that game the other week -- he ended up being one of those guys who was offered early. Now, all these guys are offered early. So the acceleration of the process is probably the biggest change.
Overall, how do you feel about this class? And is there anything you wish you would've done differently?
PF: I feel great about the class. It's a group that we've had mostly committed for a long time. Terrific group of people, dynamic group of guys athletically. And what would you wish? I don't know if I would wish anything different. I would just wish that as [recruits] go through this process that kids would look at this as a 40- or 50-year decision and not just a hashtag.