Then And Now

With the 2011 season approaching, we look at how Pat Fitzgerald's first recruiting class as head coach has turned out through their first three years as Northwestern Wildcats.

We're right in the thick of summer recruiting for the Northwestern football class of 2016, but the 2011 season is nearing, with Big Ten media days are next week fall camp beginning next month.

Recruiting is a major part of college football, and because of recruiting sites like Scout, it has become a business as well, with star ratings, all-star games, and a whole day devoted to signings.

Northwestern rarely pulls in top recruiting classes, but it consistently develops talent and turns two-star players into some of the top players in the Big Ten. That was certainly true with this class of seniors, who could end up going down as one of the best classes in Northwestern history.

To see how each senior progressed, I looked at each of their credentials as a recruit, as a senior at Northwestern, and their value factor, which rates each player 1-5 (five being the best) on how much of a value the Wildcats got compared to the player's star rating.

Check out how each senior in the 21-player class graded out.

Colin Armstrong

Scout star rating 2007: 3-star, No. 50 OT

When he was a recruit: Armstrong was a solid pickup for Northwestern and was one of three offensive linemen chosen in the 2007 class. He was one of the better prospects from the Chicago area and was one of the top linemen in the state. Where he is now: Armstrong was listed as the backup right guard under junior Brian Mulroe this season and should provide some good depth for one of Northwestern's best offensive lines in some time.

Value factor: 2 A three-star recruit, many recruiting experts probably figured Armstrong would be a starter, especially at Northwestern. However, as a second-string offensive lineman, he will still likely have a chance to contribute a little bit this season.

David Arnold

Scout star rating 2007: 3-star

When he was a recruit: Arnold was a two-way player in high school and didn't know going into college whether he would play wide receiver or safety. Choosing Northwestern was a surprise, and while he spoke with Indiana after his verbal commitment, he eventually stuck with the Wildcats.

Where he is now: After putting in a few starts over the last couple seasons, Arnold will be a featured safety for the Wildcats this fall. He switched back to safety from linebacker after 2009 and is a very physical presence in the NU secondary.

Value factor: 3 While his biggest season is likely still in front of him, Arnold has already put in a lot of playing time for Northwestern. He has turned into a reliable player for the Wildcats.

Doug Bartels

Scout star rating 2007: No rating, walk-on

When he was a recruit: Bartels was a standout defensive lineman in high school, but was not offered by Northwestern. He decided to walk-on and received a scholarship in 2008.

Where he is now: Bartels has been one of this class's biggest surprises and has been a starter since midway through his redshirt freshman year. He already has 25 career starts as a Wildcat and should be a regular again this year on a veteran offensive line.

Value factor: 4. Anytime a walk-on can give you 25 starts before his senior year, you know you've gotten a steal.

Mike Bolden

Scout star rating 2007: 2-star

When he was a recruit: Bolden was ranked as the No. 36 cornerback nationally and was a standout for Evanston Township High School. He chose Northwestern over other Big Ten and MAC offers.

Where he is now: Bolden has switched positions, from corner to safety, and was listed as a backup behind Arnold at safety. He has seen action, but not started, in games during the past two years, and expect that to be the case again in 2011.

Value factor: 2.5 Despite not starting, Bolden has been a solid contributor for Northwestern over the years.

Charles Brown

Scout star rating 2007: 2-star

When he was a recruit: A Chicago area recruit, Brown was considered a solid get for Northwestern. He was very smart in high school (he had offers from Northwestern and Stanford) and was also a start on the field.

Where he is now: Brown has contributed over the past two seasons, but will now likely be the full-time starter. He should be a nice complement to star receiver

Value factor: 3 Brown has already put in steady contribution, and going from 2-star recruit to starting Big Ten wide receiver isn't bad at all.

Vince Browne

Scout star rating 2007: 3-star, No. 59 DE When he was a recruit: Browne was considered a solid recruit coming out of high school, as the No. 59 defensive end in the country. He chose Northwestern over offers from Colorado, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and West Virginia

Where he is now: Browne will be a three-year starter by the time he leaves Northwestern and was a magazine consensus first team preseason All-Big Ten player.

Value factor: 4.5 Browne was supposed to be good coming in, but ended up exceeding expectations. He has been a star at NU and continues to gain regional and national recognition.

Ben Burkett

Scout star rating 2007: 2-star

When he was a recruit: Burkett, an unranked, two-star recruit, was relatively overlooked by the bigger schools. He chose Northwestern over a number of MAC offers.

Where he is now: Burkett will be a four-year starter for Northwestern and has currently started 39 consecutive games. He should be in contention for All-Big Ten honors this year.

Value factor: 5 Burkett is one of the top values from this class, having gone from one BCS conference offer to a four-year starter.

Jack DiNardo

Scout star rating 2007: 2-star

When he was a recruit: DiNardo had offers from only two BCS conference schools—Northwestern and Kansas State—and ended up staying close to home and choosing Northwestern.

Where he is now: DiNardo received playing time as early as his redshirt freshman year, but really started to contribute during his junior year, starting in 12 of 13 games. As a senior, he'll be one of the anchors of an experienced defensive line.

Value factor: 3.5 Northwestern got a solid two-year starter out of a two-star prospect, who will be a leader on the defensive line.

Drake Dunsmore

Scout star rating 2007: 2-star

When he was a recruit: Despite only being a two-star recruit, Dunsmore received offers from home state Kansas State and Arizona State, as well as some smaller schools.

Where he is now: After starting seven games in 2009, Dunsmore was a full-time starter last season and honorable mention All-Big Ten in a league filled with stars at that position. He could be first or second team All-Big Ten after this season.

Value factor: 5 Dunsmore has been a contributor ever since stepping foot in Evanston and will be a key part of the Wildcats' powerful offense.

Jeremy Ebert.

Scout star rating 2008: 2-star, No. 251 WR

When he was a recruit: Ebert was not very highly recruited coming out of high school, receiving offers from only Northwestern and Eastern Michigan. He was a quarterback in high school.

Where he is now: Ebert played in all 13 games in 2009, including four starts, but became a key contributor on the 2010 team. He has been picked as a first team All-Big Ten player by a number of magazines and is expected to be Northwestern's go-to receiver in 2011.

Value factor: 5 Ebert is one of the biggest values in this class, going from only two offers to being Northwestern's go-to receiver and one of the best receivers in the Big Ten.

Ben Johnson

Scout star rating 2007: 2-star

When he was a recruit: Johnson was a two-way player in high school, playing both linebacker and wide receiver. He had offers from only Northwestern and Northern Illinois, but also received interest from Indiana and Wisconsin.

Where he is now: After playing primarily as a reserve in 2010, Johnson will be the starting outside linebacker in 2011.

Value factor: 3 Johnson was a solid contributor throughout his career and now gets a chance to start, despite only holding one Big Ten offer.

Jordan Mabin

Scout star rating 2007: 4-star, No. 20 CB When he was a recruit: A four-star recruit, Mabin was highly sought after by college coaches. He was ranked 10th best player in Ohio.

Where he is now: Mabin will be a three-year starter for Northwestern and was picked as third and fourth team preseason All-Big Ten by some magazines.

Value factor: 4 Mabin lived up to high expectations at Northwestern and should put in 39 total starts by the time he is done in Evanston.

Niko Mafuli

Scout star rating 2007: 3-star, No. 13 C

When he was a recruit: Mafuli was a solid recruit coming out of high school, receiving offers from Northwestern, Missouri, and Utah. He was a two-time all-state selection for St. Louis University High School.

Where he is now: Mafuli switched from center to defensive line in college and has played sparingly over the past two seasons. This year, he was listed as a co-starter at defensive tackle coming out of spring practice and will be battling junior Brian Arnfelt for the starting job.

Value factor: 2.5 Mafuli has a chance to be a major contributor this season, but hasn't contributed much through the first three years of his career.

Jeravin Matthews

Scout star rating 2008: 2-star, No. 197 WR When he was a recruit: Matthews was considered a wide receiver coming out of college, but played running back in high school. He was the No. 197 wide receiver in the class of 2008.

Where he is now: Once a running back with the Wildcats, Matthews switched over to cornerback while the team prepared for the 2010 Outback Bowl. This season, he's likely to be a starter at cornerback. He had a great spring and could help form one of the Big Ten's best corner duos along with Mabin.

Value factor: 3 Matthews has been a contributor since stepping foot in Evanston—he and Ebert were the only true freshmen from the class of 2008 to play that year—and he should turn into a solid starter as a senior.

Bryce McNaul

Scout star rating 2007: 3-star, No. 32 MLB When he was a recruit: McNaul was an all-state player and had offers from Wake Forest and Iowa State in addition to Northwestern.

Where he is now: McNaul has played since 2008, but really started to contribute last season, starting in nine of 11 games. He will be a starter again this season and will be the leader of the linebacker corps.

Value factor: 3 McNaul's is clearly a talented player, but his leadership skills will also be valuable for Northwestern this season.

Al Netter

Scout star rating 2007: 2-star, No. 78 TE When he was a recruit: Netter was not very highly recruited out of high school, despite his versatility, and ended up only with an offer from Northwestern

Where he is now: Netter will be a four-year starter for Northwestern and has started in 39 consecutive games. He was a co-captain last year and will help anchor a solid offensive line in 2011. He also should be in line for top All-Big Ten honors.

Value factor: 5 Netter went from a player that nobody wanted to a four-year starter, one of the best offensive linemen in the Big Ten, and a strong leader. He's one of the ultimate values in college football recruiting.

Dan Persa

Scout star rating 2007: 2-star, No. 78 QB When he was a recruit: An all-state, dual-threat quarterback, Persa received offers from Northwestern and West Virginia. He was the first Pennsylvania player to rush for over 1,000 yards and pass for over 2,000 yards in a season.

Where he is now: Persa became a full-time starter last season and received first team All-Big Ten honors from the conference coaches. He was second on the team in rushing, despite playing in only 11 games due to injury and led the nation in pass completion percentage. He could be an All-American and Heisman Trophy candidate in 2011.

Value factor: 5 Persa was only a two-star recruit coming out of high school, but he may end up being the best quarterback in Northwestern history. He is extremely accurate, a great rusher, and a leader, and could put the Wildcats in Big Ten title contention in 2011.

Brian Peters

Scout star rating 2007: 2-star

When he was a recruit: Peters was only a two-star recruit and was a second-team All-Ohio selection. He had offers from two BCS conference schools—Michigan State and South Florida—in addition to Northwestern

Where he is now: Peters saw action in 2008 and 2009, with five starts in 2009, but became a full-time starter last season. He has received preseason All-Big Ten recognition and is a leader for the NU secondary.

Value factor: 4.5 Peters has exceeded expectations during his time at Northwestern and may be in line for top Big Ten honors as a senior. His leadership will be instrumental in improving the Wildcats' secondary.

Jacob Schmidt

Scout star rating 2007: No rating, walk-on When he was a recruit: Schmidt was a walk-on who earned a scholarship in 2009.

Where he is now: Schmidt has seen time at running back for the past three years and has totaled six starts throughout his career. He is listed as a backup running back this season, but should still see a decent amount of playing time.

Value factor: 3 When walk-ons get playing time or starts it's always a pleasant surprise, and Schmidt has been just that during his career as a Wildcat.

Kevin Watt

Scout star rating 2007: 2-star

When he was a recruit: Watt was a fullback, linebacker, and defensive end in high school, racking up All-State honors in 2006.

Where he is now: Watt played sparingly in 2008 and gained more playing time in 2009. He started 12 of 13 games in 2010 and was listed as a co-starter following spring practice. He will compete with sophomore Tyler Scott for the starting job this fall.

Value factor: 3 Watt has been a solid contributor for Northwestern throughout his career and has a chance to end his career as a starter.

Ricky Weina

Scout star rating 2007: No ranking, walk-on When he was a recruit: Weina was a walk-on who earned a scholarship in 2010.

Where he is now: Weina is a backup cornerback who has played since 2008, appearing in 11 of 13 games last season. He stepped in to start in place of Sherrick McManus during one game in 2009.

Value factor: 2 Weina hasn't been a major contributor throughout his career, but has performed well when asked.


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