Back in the summer of 2009, Garoppolo, a native of Rolling Meadows, Ill., attended one of Northwestern's one-day camps. He caught the eye of Northwestern coaches.
"We really liked Jimmy a lot," Pat Fitzgerald said of the Panthers' quarterback.
Garoppolo had picked up scholarship offers from Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, and Montana State, and had received interest from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Northern Illinois, Purdue, and a number of other schools.
On this particular summer day, Garoppolo was auditioning for an offer in front of Northwestern coaches, and put on an impressive showing. He was very close to receiving an offer.
"To be honest, I was shocked that (NU running backs coach Matt MacPherson) didn't offer him," Fitzgerald said.
Garoppolo waited and hoped to receive addition scholarship offers, but nothing developed. On January 20th—just 10 days shy of National Signing Day, he committed to Eastern Illinois.
As a true freshman, Garoppolo started eight games at quarterback for the Panthers, and threw for 1,639 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. He earned All-Ohio Valley Conference Newcomer Team honors.
More than two years later from Garoppolo's appearance at NU's camp, Pat Fitzgerald is still impressed with him.
"Not only is he a really solid quarterback, but he's a good athlete and a great kid," Fitzgerald said of Garoppolo. "He did a great job with Rolling Meadows and he's as advertised on tape. I thought watching him our summer study, last year he really came on. For a young guy getting his first opportunity, he was impressive."
Garoppolo and the Panthers kicked off the 2011 campaign with an impressive come-from-behind victory over rival Illinois State. Garoppolo led a fourth quarter comeback, which included two touchdown passes and a touchdown run. He finished the game with 301 passing yards and four total touchdowns, while leading his team to a 33-26 victory over the Redbirds.
"When I saw him against ISU—I got the utmost respect for Brock Spack and the job he did last year with the defense—I thought Jimmy really executed well and threw the ball very successfully," said Fitzgerald. "I'm not surprised; I think he's really talented."
On Saturday, Fitzgerald is hoping to contain Garoppolo and the Panthers' talented passing attack. This will be the first ever matchup between the Wildcats and Panthers. Of course, this will not be Garoppolo's first time at Northwestern.