[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image source="featured_image" img_size="large"][vc_column_text]Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern are Crushing it on the Trail[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Northwestern and head coach Pat Fitzgerald enjoy unprecedented success in recruiting in the 2023 cycle. The Wildcats currently rank top 10. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald is one of the better coaches in the country and has set a foundation that has led to this success. This event is no mere fluke, and we will be detailing the path and how such an uncommon occurrence is taking place. They have not wasted much time getting kids in the boat, already having 17 commitments. However, that is not the only reason this class is highly rated and high impact. The quality of athletes Northwestern has committed is also at an all-time high. The Wildcats already have eight different prospects committed who have four stars, according to at least one major recruiting service.
Northwestern's emphasis on Academics first.
Pat Fitzgerald has built a foundation of success at Northwestern that is impressive. He has built his culture to reflect Northwestern's academic prowess, built on hard work and effort. It puts football, in many ways, second to other priorities. Success at institutions like this is challenging. Notre Dame is the best model but had already built a brand as one of the greatest programs of all time before the academic prioritization.
However, typically academic first institutions traditionally struggle from year to year. Look at Vanderbilt, for example. Though others like Stanford have had some on-again, off-again success. So to say success is a relative term is an understatement here. In the last three seasons, Northwestern has finished in the top ten in the final AP poll (2020) and struggled (3-9 records in 2019 and 2021). However, the bigger picture, since 2015, Northwestern has finished ranked three times. Two appearances in the B1G Championship game, two 10-win seasons, a nine-win campaign, and a 7-2 record and top 10 finish in 2020. Incredible at Northwestern.
The Top Quality Players in this Cycle
Eight players in this recruiting cycle are rated as four-star players by at least one of the major recruiting services (247sports, Rivals, On3, and ESPN). Pat Fitzgerald and his staff were able to poach these top-tier players from many different states in the backyards programs of fierce competition. Northwestern's brand of play is reflected in this class as the priorities are defense and offensive line. This class is the blue-collar, bring your lunch pale sort.
Safety Damon Walters(Bolingbrook, IL), IOL Anothy Birsa (Joilet, IL) IOL Dylan Senda (Dearborn, MI), IOL Jordan Knox (Rock Hill, SC), LB Nigel Glover (Dayton, OH), EDGE Mason Robinson (Owing Mills, MD), EDGE Michael Kilbane (Lakewood, OH) and DL Ashton Porter (Cypress, TX). Each of these players will have a chance to impact early on this process for the Wildcats. In addition, Three-Star QB Aidan Gray is one of the more underrated prospects in their class. He is listed at 6'4 and was efficient, throwing 16 TDs to just 4 INTs and leading his school Naperville North to the playoffs in Illinois 4AA. Every class needs a strong quarterback to tie together, and the Wildcats believe they have one.
As one B1G staff member from another program informed me. "It was a crazy good pick-up for them. He would have only continued to garner more attention from other power five programs had he remained uncommitted."
Impact for Northwestern
Northwestern has been a solid program but somewhat of an every other year participant. It's tough to be consistently good when you do not get many of the top athletes out of high school. You need time to develop those players and the down-trending seasons are because of that. If you are smart enough to go to Northwestern, why would you not choose Stanford or Notre Dame if they extended their invitation?
The pool is limited but can ultimately be changed with some success and consistency. This class could be the catalyst to adding the needed consistency to help create long-term growth for the program. Instead of falling every two years, perhaps they can transform into a program similar to Wisconsin or Oklahoma State. Where there are high water mark years and the down-trending seasons are still at least 7-8 victories. Could Pat Fitzgerald get his alma mater to a place where they consistently compete in the B1G West? Only time will tell.