On the heels of a 10-win season, the Northwestern Wildcats and head coach Pat Fitzgerald announced the addition of 21 new players Wednesday – 19 of whom signed National Letters of Intent and two players who are early decision walk-ons. This class will attempt to replace the 25 graduating seniors who compose the winningest class in Northwestern’s history, and who lead the Wildcats to five consecutive bowl appearances.
"We as a staff are confident we've signed a group of young men who are tremendous fits for our program athletically, academically and socially,” Fitzgerald said. “These 21 individuals are joining a program with a lot of momentum and I look forward to the contributions they'll make toward helping us achieve our goals in years to come."
Of the 19 signees, five hail from Illinois: Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti, Lincoln-Way East quarterback-turned-wide receiver Tom Fuessel, Lyons cornerback Matthew Harris, Minooka offensive lineman Blake King and Plainfield East defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster. Zack Guritz, an offensive lineman from Hinsdale South, is one of the two walk-ons.
This slight bias toward local talent is hardly unusual for the Wildcats.
“Seven different states [are] represented in the signing class, but obviously we’re going to start and end our recruiting here in Chicagoland.” Fitzgerald said.
The most exciting local player is Alviti, someone Fitzgerald has known for quite some time.
“We started to get to know Matt in the eighth grade,” Fitzgerald said of the “very dynamic, duel-threat quarterback.”
As a sophomore in high school, Alviti took over as the starter -- unseating a senior -- and eventually lead his Maine South team to a state title.
Rivals.com gives Alviti a 5.8 rating. He is ranked 11th overall for dual-threat quarterbacks and is the 6th overall recruiting prospect from Illinois.
It remains unclear whether or not Alviti will be redshirted for his freshmen year.
Another promising local player is quarterback-turned-wideout Tom Fuessel from Lincoln-Way East. Fuessel originally gave an oral commitment to Northern Illinois, but decided to reopen his recruitment when the Huskies’ coaching situation changed.
“It was our understanding that he was going to decommit and open up his recruiting, so we reached out to his high school coach,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s very explosive, very dynamic…. When the ball’s in his hand, good things happen.”
Other notable recruits from outside the state lines include cornerback Keith Watkins II from Archbishop Moeller in Ohio, athlete Kyle Queiro of Bergen Catholic in New Jersey, athlete Godwin Igwebuike from Pickerington North in Ohio and offensive lineman Brad North of Allen High School in Texas.
“I think if you look at the 19 – they’re winners,” Fitzgerald said. “Allen High School 5A state champions, Moeller high school winning the state championship in Ohio. You look at the young men we’ve signed from Illinois -- very talented, very fast; Matt Alviti’s a state champion.”
Northwestern's recent history of success, made recruiting these winners easier.
“When you have success on the field, and you go out on recruiting – you go to five straight bowl games, win a bowl game, do it with the best APR and graduation rates in the country, it gets people’s attention,” Fitzgerald said. “[You’re] talking about a $220 million facility on the shores of Lake Michigan, a chance to play at Wrigley field – which no one else will have a chance to do – for five games. So every kid we’re recruiting going forwards gets an unbelievably unique experience.”