Northwestern bills itself as Chicago’s Big Ten Team, and it’s out to prove that title correct.
What will go a long way in helping that is what the Cats did Wednesday on National Signing Day, announcing a class that includes some of the top talent in the Chicagoland area.
“As you can see in the class, we felt like we dominated Chicagoland again,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said at his press conference Wednesday. “We felt like we went out and we hard-targeted the men that we felt fit our program. And to see the young men that have joined our program and the backbone of our roster, which is always going to be Chicagoland, we’re excited about those guys.”
Northwestern’s three Chicagoland players are all four-star recruits who rank in the Rivals 250 and are three of the top 10 recruits in the state of Illinois, also per Rivals’ rankings.
Wheaton North quarterback Clayton Thorson, Glenbard North running back Justin Jackson and Bolingbrook defensive back Parrker Westphal are those top three recruits, and they all have high hopes from the purple-and-white faithful.
Jackson might be the one with the biggest expectations after a huge season at Glenbard North.
“Justin’s been a very dynamic player for North,” Fitzgerald said, “and we were reaching out to coaching staff and asked coach (Ryan) Wilkens to stop running him as much. So he only ran him 12 times, and he ran for 365.”
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Westphal is already enrolled at Northwestern, the first player ever to do so under Fitzgerald.
Meanwhile, Thorson joins the program as the highest-ranked Northwestern recruit in the class of 2014, and obviously, questions instantly arose about what kind of role he’ll have down the road. Fitzgerald employed a two-quarterback system the past two seasons with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, but the head coach said there’s no guarantee that will be the norm moving forward.
“We had two quarterbacks we felt like we could win with when they were healthy, and so that’s why we used that system,” Fitzgerald said. “Prior to that we really hadn’t done that. And that was more because of the skill set of both of those guys. So to project is kind of hard. We’ll see how things progress. Obviously we’ve got competition this spring.”
As far as the recruits from outside Chicagoland, Northwestern added the following players Wednesday:
— A fourth four-star recruit in defensive Garrett Dickerson from Oradell, N.J., the younger brother current Wildcats wideout Cameron Dickerson.
— Seven three-star recruits: Running back Auston Anderson, offensive lineman Tommy Doles, offensive lineman Blake Hance, offensive lineman Ben Oxley, linebacker Cameron Quiero, athlete Solomon Vault, defensive tackle Fred Wyatt.
— And four two-star recruits: wide receiver Nate Hall, defensive back Jared McGee, linebacker James Prather and defensive end Xavier Washington.
Fitzgerald applauded his staff for what he called an “unbelievable hit ratio” of 22 percent, meaning 22 percent of the players offered scholarships accepted.