"Walk-ons continue to play an enormous role in our success as a program, whether it's on Saturdays in the fall or on a daily basis in practice," Fitzgerald said. "We've been able to reward several young men who began as walk-ons with full scholarships in recent years and our goal is to continue that trend. These nine individuals are great fits for our program and we're excited to get them on campus."
In the last 12 seasons, Northwestern has awarded 31 scholarships to players who began their careers as walk-ons, most recently last fall when long-snapper John Henry Pace, defensive lineman Andrew Struckmeyer and defensive back Ricky Weina each received a scholarship.
This year's crop of nine non-scholarship freshmen includes four from the Chicagoland area, two from Ohio and one each from Georgia, Oregon and Wisconsin. They are: Cermak Bland (West Linn, Ore./Jesuit), P.J. Carollo (Lake Bluff, Ill./Lake Forest), Matt Carpenter (Dayton, Ohio/Oakwood), Doug Diedrick (Woodridge, Ill./Montini Catholic), Chris Gradone (Cincinnati, Ohio/St. Xavier), Austin Kassner (Ashwaubenon, Wis./ Ashwaubenon), Arthur Omilian (Atlanta, Ga./Pace Academy), Alex Pietrzack (Burr Ridge, Ill./Brother Rice) and E.J. Webb (Wilmette, Ill./Loyola Academy).
Northwestern is coming off a third-straight bowl appearance having earned a berth in the 2011 TicketCity Bowl on New Year's Day. NU has won a combined 24 games in those three seasons. Under Fitzgerald's guidance, the Wildcats have continued to excel academically as well, last month learning that their multi-year Academic Progress Rate (APR) of 993 leads all Football Bowl Subdivision schools (FBS).
Listed below are the nine walk-ons for the 2011 class.
• Cermak Bland (5-11, 185) WR
Jesuit (OR) High School
High School: All-state and first-team All-Metro League wide receiver ... Totaled 45 receptions for 637 yards (14.2 ypc) with four touchdowns ... 765 all-purpose yards ... Team reached 2009 Oregon state final and 2010 state semifinals ... Also competed in the 100-meter dash and triple jump in track and field ... National Honor Society and National Spanish Honor Society member ... Ignatian Scholar.
Personal: Born Cermak Jirka Bland ... Son of Rick and Ella Bland ... Great, great grandson of former mayor of Chicago Anton J. Cermak (1931-33) ... Attended same high school as Mike Dunleavy of the Indiana Pacers as well as Miami Heat head coach Eric Spoelstra ... Anticipated major is political science.
• P.J. Carollo (6-1, 185) QB
High School: Started at quarterback as a senior and led Lake Forest to 7-4 record and first playoff victory in 14 years ... Completed 85-141 passes (60.3 percent) for 1,095 yards and 14 touchdowns ... Received a Chicago Tribune Fab Five Chicagoland Player of the Week honor ... Led Saints on a six-play drive in a tie game with two minutes remaining -- capped by a 42-yard scoring pass -- to upset Palatine ... Three-time Pioneer Press Player of the Game ... Also lettered in basketball, baseball and track ... National Honor Society member and North Suburban Conference All-Academic honoree.
Personal: Born Paul G. Carollo ... Son of Paul and Patricia Carollo ... Father was a quarterback at UW-LaCrosse and uncle, Bill, played QB at Milwaukee ... Bill is currently Director of Officials at the Big Ten Conference and a former NFL and Big Ten official ... P.J. was a backup QB to current Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees as a junior ... Anticipated major is economics. Lake Forest (IL) High School
• Matt Carpenter (6-2, 200) DB
Oakwood (OH) High School
High School: Named Most Valuable Offensive Back in Southwestern Buckeye League Conference ... Team captain and MVP of Oakwood in 2010 ... All-Area Offense selection ... Rushed for 1,209 yards and 17 touchdowns on 163 carries (7.42 ypr) as a senior while also throwing for 10 touchdowns on 75-of-135 passing (56 percent) ... Rushed for more than 210 yards in three different games ... On defense, recorded 40 solo tackles, 18 assisted stops and caused three fumbles ... Team advanced to the third round of the 2008 state playoffs ... Also a captain and three-year letterwinner on tennis team ... Four-year honor roll student and member of French Honor Society.
Personal: Born Matthew Zoller Carpenter ... Son of Lee and Kristin Carpenter ... Father was a swimmer at Illinois, mother played tennis at Arizona State and brother, Andrew, is a junior on the baseball team at Michigan State ... Expecting to major in radio/television/film.
• Doug Diedrick (5-10, 215) LB
Montini Catholic (IL) High School
High School: 2010 Illinois Class 5A all-state selection at outside linebacker and Daily Herald Du Page County All-Area honoree ... Listed among top-10 outside linebackers in Illinois by ESPN Rise ... Member of two Illinois Class 5A state championship-winning teams (2009, 2010) at Montini Catholic ... Led the Broncos with 135 tackles in 2009 and finished with 265 for his career ... 2010 team captain ... Also qualified for the IHSA Class 2A state wrestling tournament at 189 pounds ... Three-time All-Suburban Christian Conference Academic honoree ... IHSA All-State Academic team nominee ... Recipient of President's Award for academic excellence and National Honor Society member.
Personal: Born Douglas Lawrence Diedrick ... Son of Larry and Bobbi Diedrick ... Father was a walk-on running back at Notre Dame ... Teammate of current Wildcat Chuck Porcelli at Montini Catholic ... Childhood friend of incoming Northwestern basketball athlete David Sobolewski ... Diedrick played entire 14-game senior season with torn ACL ... Anticipated major is economics.
• Chris Gradone (6-2, 205) P
St. Xavier (OH) High School
High School: First-team All-GCL South and second-team all-region punter as a senior ... Cincinnati Enquirer first-team all-city choice ... Averaged 40.7 yards per punt over 54 punts, the second-best season average in St. Xavier history ... Punted 33 times as a junior and held opponents to a school-record (-6) yards per punt return ... Career single-game best of 47.2 yards per punt came vs. Cleveland St. Ignatius in 2010 ... Team won back-to-back city championships and a 2009 GCL South championship ... 2010 regional finalist and 2009 regional semifinalist ... National Honor Society member.
Personal: Born Richard Christopher Gradone ... Son of Rick and Lesley Gradone ... Played with fellow NU freshmen Deonte Gibson, Geoff Mogus and Andrew Smith ... Anticipated major is engineering.
• Austin Kassner (6-2, 175) DB
Ashwaubenon (WI) High School
High School: Fox River Classic Conference Offensive Player of the Year as a senior, earning all-region and honorable mention all-state honors ... Threw for 1,724 yards on 121 completions with 20 touchdowns in 2010 ... Also rushed for 743 yards and 11 TD's ... 2,467 total yards ... Led team to undefeated conference championship in 2010, finishing with a 10-1 mark and an appearance in the second round of the playoffs ... In Level 2 playoffs vs. Cedarbury, threw for 159 yards and two scores while rushing for 90 yards and two more TD's ... Selected to play in 2011 North vs. South Wisconsin All-Star game ... Team captain ... Also played three seasons of baseball and one each of golf and wrestling ... National Honor Society member and president of DECA. Personal: Born Austin Albert Kassner ... Son of Craig and Pattie Kassner ... Plans to study industrial engineering and economics.
• Arthur Omilian (5-11, 160) K
Pace (GA) Academy
High School: 2010 Region 5A North Special Teams Player of the Year ... In 2010, converted 7-of-9 field goals with a long of 50 yards, hit on 44-of-46 PAT's and recorded 37 touchbacks on 59 kickoffs ... Also the 2009 honorable mention all-region kicker when he was 23-of-24 on PAT's and 4-of-6 on field goals ... Helped his team to a 9-2 record as a senior and the first state playoff berth in Pace Academy history ... Hit a 30-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime during his junior season ... National Honor Society member, Spanish department Student of the Year and editor-in-chief of school newspaper.
Personal: Born Arthur M. Omilian ... Son of Marek and Marzanna Omilian ... Dual citizenship in Canada and Poland ... Plans to major in industrial engineering.
• Alex Pietrzak (6-4, 275) OL
Brother Rice (IL) High School
High School: Three-year letterwinner at Brother Rice where he surrendered only one sack combined in junior and senior seasons ... 15 pancake blocks ... One fumble recovery ... Made two appearances in state playoffs ... Also saw time as nose tackle on defense inside the red zone ... Two years as a thrower on track and field team ... National Honor Society member and four-year qualifier to high honor roll ... Also co-founded Model United Nations club.
Personal: Born Alexander John Pieterzak ... Son of John and Rae Pietrzak ... Anticipated major is economics.
• E.J. Webb (6-5, 205) WR
Loyola (IL) Academy
High School: Two-year letterwinner at Loyola Academy ... Garnered all-state honorable mention and All-Chicago Catholic League Blue honors as a senior ... Team offensive MVP ... Helped Loyola to state semifinal appearances in 2009 and 2010 ... Caught seven passes for 89 yards in a 24-21 Loyola win over St. Rita that gave the Ramblers a share of their first Catholic League title in 14 years ... Also played three years of baseball and one season of basketball ... National Honor Society member, Dumbach Scholar and Loyola Scholar.
Personal: Born Earl E. Webb Jr. ... Son of Earl and Sue Webb ... Sister, Betsy, is a Pac-10 champion and All-American swimmer at Stanford ... Latest in a string of players at NU from Loyola Academy ... Anticipated major is undecided.