The Future is Now

The 2011 Northwestern recruiting class is in the books. The Wildcats received letters from each of the 17 commits, completing Coach Pat Fitzgerald's fifth recruiting class as head coach of the Northwestern Wildcats.

"We're excited about the 17 young men entering our football family," NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald said This is a labor of love, it takes a lot of time."

The Wildcats received their first verbal commitment in February (Jarrell Williams) and their last verbal commitments in late January (Deonte Gibson and Andrew Smith).

Throughout that time period, the Wildcats have won seven games, played in a bowl game, seen players and coaches leave, and have even seen their head coach stay.

"When you look back at this time period, it took well over a year," said Fitzgerald.

The Wildcats accomplished quite a bit with their 2011 recruiting class.

The ‘Cats added much-needed depth at the running back position with additions like Trevyon Green and Jordan Perkins, they may have found their quarterback of the future in Zack Oliver, and they solidified their offensive line for the future with additions like Geoff Mogus, Jack Konopka, Matt Frazier, and Shane Mertz.

In early December, the Wildcats saw they were going to have a problem. With the graduation of Stephen Simmons and unexpected departures of Alex Daniel, Scott Concannon, and Arby Fields, Northwestern found themselves facing some unexpected depth issues in the backfield

The Wildcats had already received a verbal commitment from Trevyon Green, but facing a potential depth problem, the Wildcats began to search for another running back. That search led them to Stanford commit Jordan Perkins, then a Stanford commit who had built a relationship with the Northwestern coaching staff.

When Perkins faced the possibility of not being accepted to Stanford, he turned to Northwestern. That change would be a good thing for Perkins.

"I loved Evanston," Perkins said. "The people are great. It's a whole different scenery than back here. The coaches are great. They treat me like real person and they're genuine."

So Perkins scheduled one official visit, coming on January 21st in Evanston. The Stanford commit spent a couple days at Northwestern, but committed on the spot when he met Coach Fitzgerald. "I think it's a process," Fitzgerald said. "I think Jordan Perkins, when I offered him a week ago, made up his mind that this is where he wanted to be."

If all goes according to planned for Fitzgerald's recruiting class, then Perkins will be receiving handoffs from quarterback Zack Oliver.

The Wildcats gave a heavy pursuit for Oliver. Once he committed to the ‘Cats in June, Northwestern didn't think of taking another quarterback.

Fitzgerald and the Northwestern coaches were blown away by Oliver when they first saw him, which led to high expectations from the coaching staff.

"Zack was here this summer, we've had a relationship with him forever," Fitzgerald said. "He's from a great family. One of the reasons that we're so attracted to Zack is because we want him to be our quarterback.

But Northwestern's biggest splash came with their five offensive line commits (tight end included). Geoff Mogus, Jack Konopka, Matt Frazier, Shane Mertz, and TE Mark Szott will help sure up the Northwestern offensive line for years to come.

Each of the five commits gave their verbal commitment prior to July 21st, with Konopka being the latest commit.

More importantly for the Wildcats, these five players offer versatility up front. The four linemen can likely move around on the offensive line, while tight end Mark Szott is expected to play a hybrid tight end-wide receiver role with the Wildcats.

On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats added some depth to their defense with six commits, three of those being defensive ends.

The ‘Cats added Max Chapman, C.J. Robbins, and Deonte Gibson to the defensive line, while also adding linebacker Andrew Smith and defensive backs Nick VanHoose and Jarrell Williams.

Andrew Smith is an outside linebacker, who has the potential to play on the inside. VanHoose is listed as a running back, but is expected to become a defensive back with the Wildcats.

With these 17 players, Fitzgerald accomplished a major goal- adding depth for the future.

"We filled our needs, not only on this year, but based on what we see for the future," Fitzgerald said of his recruiting class.

The 2011 recruiting class also brought out a new tactic in recruiting, the ability to lure away a soon-to-be decommit. Certain circumstances forced five players to decommit from their original choice, and commit to Northwestern.

In the case of C.J. Robbins, Nick VanHoose, and Deonte Gibson, a coaching change brought them to a stable Wildcat football program. Jordan Perkins and Andrew Smith each had their own separate issue that brought them to Northwestern.

Coach Fitzgerald said that some of these things just happen naturally.

"When circumstances happen like coaching changes, then sometimes, young people open up their recruiting, especially if you have a pre-existing relationship with that young person."

The dismissal of Bill Lynch at Indiana brought the Wildcats C.J. Robbins and Nick VanHoose, while the same situation at Pittsburgh eventually brought Northwestern Deonte Gibson.

But Pat Fitzgerald took the most pride in staying true to his scholarship number. It's far too common in today's college football world for coaches to oversign players, and run out of scholarships. However, Fitzgerald stayed true to his scholarships, giving out only the 17 scholarships available.

In addition, Fitzgerald brought in a group of student-athletes who qualify with the NCAA's academic standards, along with Northwestern's rigorous academic standards.

All of this added up brings the Wildcat head coach great pride.

"We have 100% graduation rate and one of the highest rates of retention in the country. We have 85 scholarships, we had 17 to give, and we're at 85 right now. They're not only NCAA qualifiers, they're Northwestern qualifiers."

The 2011 recruiting class finishes ranked 56th in's team rankings, and 9th out of 12 in's Big Ten recruiting rankings.

This class averages 2.88 stars out of five, but that all means absolutely nothing to Pat Fitzgerald

"I have no idea what a star means," Fitzgerald said. "That's coming from a zero-star prospect who was a two-time All-American."

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