After the Gator Bowl victory, Pat Fitzgerald raved about his departing senior class. They played with visible chemistry and carried Northwestern to the surprise 10-win season.
When they held the trophy and refused to let go, few remembered the 2008 recruiting process. Defensive lineman Quentin Williams – the best player on the field – was recruited as a tight end. Then, Scout said: “Williams may be the best receiving tight end in the state … He gets good separation and stretches the middle of the field.”
It seems comical now, but recruiting services regularly misfire. We seem to think we know everything about this class. Matt Alviti and Godwin Igwebuike are considered the prizes, and the offensive line needs were addressed with several improving prospects. Everything will fall into place: position battles and confusion are resolved in the long run.
At the end of their senior year, the Northwestern 2013 recruiting class is beginning to develop bonds and lasting connections. The importance of this process cannot be overlooked.
Incoming offensive lineman Tyler Lancaster discussed the group Facebook page. The commits post often. Lancaster called the environment “supportive.” After he participated in “The Opening,” a high-profile camp in Oregon, the group blew up with congratulations. After a difficult recruiting process during which he initially received very little attention, Lancaster had found a sort of home. He was not the first to commit or an especially high-profile member of the class. But the team supported him regardless. The little things begin in this Facebook group, when they work to develop rapport.
The group also blew up on Signing Day. Players were understandably thrilled to sign. The Facebook group marked an extension of the thorough and well-executed efforts of the Northwestern athletic department. Social media exploded with congratulations. Pat Fitzgerald’s Facebook page – operated by both the coach and members of his staff – changed cover photos each time a new member of the class committed. It showed solidarity, and appreciation of all 19 players.
Blake King, the social butterfly of this class, loves to talk to future teammates. He linked these early interactions to the football field, calling the class of 2013 “the next chapter.” They witnessed on-field success. They know the program is on the rise. And they are bonding over not letting anything slide. They seek to be the best.
In one of the most memorable anecdotes of Signing Day, King said he spoke with fellow offensive line commit Brad North the day before. Connected by a mutual friend, they have grown close. But they don’t limit their discussion to personal life. They talked about winning a Big Ten Championship. They bond over their competitive nature, and identify with the class as a whole. This group is already a collection of teammates.
There was no single step that unified the class of 2008. The senior class worked alongside each other and refused to settle for mediocrity. They stumbled home after the Meineke Car Care Bowl loss on Dec. 31, 2011, and worked all offseason – refusing to feel that same disappointment anymore.
It begins in little ways. A Facebook group. A single phone call. The small friendships. The congratulatory posts.
And it culminates in something much more. On Signing Day, we dissect the individual players, rating their skills and potential. But who’s to say that matters?
The picture of all 19 signees takes on more value than the individual photos. The media agonizes over those five-star prospects. In the end, so much comes down to chemistry and Northwestern tends to have it.
I always like to say: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
The saying hardly matters. The wins do. The class of 2013 hopes to continue the rise, and there’s no choice but to do that together.
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