It was just six months ago that the plan bore fruit, when Ifeadi Odenigbo, a highly-sought after four-star DE/LB hybrid, chose the Wildcats over a list of lengthy suitors that included Notre Dame, Stanford, Ohio State and Michigan and instantly became the crown jewel of the 2012 class.
Linebackers coach Randy Bates and coach Fitzgerald sold NU on its academic stature, budding reputation as a Big Ten contender and the overall enjoyable four-year experience for student-athletes with the program.
Odenigbo bought in, emboldened by the challenge of transforming a school known more for its academics than its football team into a perennial Big Ten contender, telling the Daily Northwestern in May that it would be "disappointing" if the Wildcats can't win a conference championship or break its 63-year bowl losing streak in his four years at the school.
Fitzgerald and his staff are back at it again, this time with 2013 De La Salle (CA) outside linebacker Victor Egu, a player of similar size, stature, and renown. The 6-3, 214-lb pass-rushing OLB has all the makings of an Odenigbo 2.0. The similarities are numerous, transcending the nearly-identical heights, weights, workout measurables and playing styles, spanning as far as the academic realm, where Egu's authentic interest in Engineering mirrors Odenigbo's.
There's one important, perhaps unconquerable hurdle that threatens to fracture the substantial line of comparison between these two players: Egu doesn't know enough about the school to consider it a possible landing spot.
"It's a great opportunity, obviously," Egu said. "But at this point, I really don't know enough about it to have a real opinion."
Defensive line coach Marty Long and offensive coordinator Mick McCall began contacting Egu in February, then offered him in March. Egu and Long have spoken several times since, with Long explaining the basics of NU's defensive scheme and Egu's potential role as a pass-rushing end.
It's a change of pace for Egu, who all too frequently has been recruited as a stand-up OLB or MLB. While he embraces a position change and jumps at the opportunity to rush the passer, it's a new concept that he's begun to consider only recently.
"Most coaches see me as an outside linebacker, or a middle linebacker," he said. "But I can see myself as a pass rusher. I've heard coaches mention it before, so it's something that I'm willing to consider."
Egu has received offers from many of the nation's top programs, including Nebraska, Notre Dame, Washington and Oregon. His recruitment, however, is hardly the first thing on his mind. Egu plans to spend the bulk of his summer at home, eschewing school visits, training combines, contact with coaches, even. His main priority is improving his speed, lateral movements and gaining weight, all in an effort to guide his De La Salle Spartans, a perennial national contender, to another successful season.
Egu said he probably won't make his decision before his senior season.
"My focus right now is just helping my team win," he said. "Having a big senior year is what's important to me right now."