Ajeigbe, slightly startled, felt an authentic sincerity from the fourth-year players who started to engage him in conversation. What surprised Ajeigbe was the way the older players befriended him so casually, the way they made him feel—as Ajeigbe put it—like "family".
"I felt like they really wanted to talk to me," Ajeigbe said, his voice peaking with excitement as he recalled the brief exchange. "Even when you're some recruit, the new guy on campus, they want to talk to you."
It was a simple occurrence, the kind of everyday meet-and-greet that doesn't make a lasting impression on most recruits. For Ajeigbe, the meeting, one of the brighter moments of his visit to Evanston last week, provided substance to the idyllic togetherness and camraderie coach Pat Fitzgerald espouses and fosters in players meetings, at team workouts and on game day.
Needless to say, the brief encounter resonated favorably for Ajeigbe, a 2013 running back from Norco (CA) high school and exemplified in large part why he has NU in his list of top three schools. After a long talk with Fitzgerald, Ajeigbe got a greater sense of the community-like atmosphere the young head coach harbors within the football program. Fitzgerald described in great detail his philosophy in recruiting, the way he selects "young men" that best fit his program, high-character individuals committed to the program and its core values—players that, like Fitzgerald, are capable of feeding and sustaining the positive team dynamic.
"It was good to meet with the whole coaching staff. I really liked coach Fitzgerald," he said. "He talked about how it's not just about football. It's about the people you recruit and life after football."
At Norco, the 5-9, 210 pound Ajeigbe has spent most of three seasons at running back, save his sophomore year, when he played slot receiver as Kelsey Young, now at Stanford, commanded the lions share of the run game workload. Ajeigbe pored over some game film with running backs coach Matt MacPherson, who preached NU's need for an every-down back, a player who can not only rip off big gains, but punch through arm and leg tackles on third and short plays. While he conceded pass-catching wasn't his strong suit, Ajeigbe said he was a versatile back well-suited for the Wildcats' spread offense.
After meeting with coaches, Ajeigbe toured campus with Henry and Brown and hung out in downtown Evanston, where he sensed a community that fully embraces and supports the Wildcats. He thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with two members of NU's 2012 class. He also met with academic advisors and was impressed with NU's graduation rate and career preparation services.
"That might have been the best part of my visit," he said. "Just spending time with the players. Getting a feel for the team. They made me feel like home."
Shortly after his trip to NU, Ajeigbe continued his eastward voyage to Durham (NC) for a stop at Duke, another school in his top three. He plans to make a trip to Arizona later this summer before putting his recruitment on the backburner so he can focus on preseason preparation with his Norco teammates. Ajeigbe hasn't pegged a deadline for his decision, though he would prefer to choose his destination before his senior season. Both the Blue Devils and the Wildcats have encouraged Ajeigbe to make his decision earlier than later, and Ajeigbe plans to oblige, saying "worst-case scenario, I'll wait a couple games into the season."
Several other schools, including Boise State, Oregon State, Minnesota and UCLA have shown interest in Ajeigbe. If one of those schools extends an offer, Ajeigbe—who suggested a slight preference for the West Coast—may alter his top three of Duke, NU and Arizona.
"Location is something I'm willing to consider, but I'm willing to go anywhere," he said.
For now, NU remains one of his top choices. The visit to Evanston only enhanced his veritable interest in the Wildcats. Ajeigbe would like to return for an official visit in the fall, but he doesn't feel a strong need to do so after getting a good feel for the program and all it entails during his trip last week.
"I feel like they're a program on the right path in the Big Ten," he said. "The visit helped me narrow down my recruiting process. It definitely strengthened my thoughts about Northwestern."