Northwestern freshmen set for new chapter

Northwestern's 21 incoming freshmen have built a bond with the use of social media and cell phones. On Sunday, much of the group unites in Evanston for the first time. Four years and endless possibilities lie ahead for Northwestern's newest Wildcats.

Ian Park was enjoying one of his final days of summer break when he received a text message from Northwestern offensive line coach Adam Cushing. It was a reminder of the freshmen meeting set for Sunday. "Be early," Cushing stated.

"He's laying down the law right away," Park said.

Park, a three-star guard prospect, is one of 20 incoming freshmen enrolling at Northwestern for summer school. The group is due to arrive in Evanston on Sunday.

NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald encourages his incoming freshmen to stay home and enjoy their summer. However, the newest Wildcats are hungry to reach their goals.

"As a class, as a whole, we want to bring in a new vibe, a new everything, to go to the Rose Bowl, go in and start competing immediately," said Lewis Center, OH product Kenton Playko. "We thought if we go in over the summer, physically and mentally, we can get going and become a stronger class. We're all ready to go."

The group has maintained steady contact before uniting in person. Joseph Jones, Northwestern's fourth addition to the class, formed a Facebook page for each of the recruits to communicate. Jones would add each new pledge to the group.

Social media helped each recruit form a bond, even with many never meeting in person. The group will come together in Evanston, becoming Wildcats.

"We're all just really excited, pumped up and ready to go," said incoming superback Jack Schwaba. "We're all excited to meet each other, form friendships and become teammates."

17 of Northwestern's incoming freshmen are from out of state, while Dan Vitale, Joseph Jones, Malin Jones and Dean Lowry are all from the Chicagoland area. Schwaba will travel to Evanston from Pittsburgh, but his arrival will be a homecoming, as he grew up in Chicago's north suburbs.

"I had a great experience in Pittsburgh, I loved my time there," said Schwaba, a standout at Upper Saint Clair High School. "I was always a Chicago boy at heart. Having the chance to head home means everything to me."

Evanston will be a new experience for Redford, MI. product Eric Wilson. However, he grew eager for the next phase in his life as senior year dragged on.

Wilson celebrated his high school graduation last weekend, surrounded by friends and family, offering the chance to say his goodbyes. He now embarks on a new chapter.

Upper Saint Clair lineman Ian Park will be joined at Northwestern by high school teammate Jack Schwaba

"Senior year, I wanted to get out of here, but it has been fun," said Wilson. "It's my last day here, I'm moving on. It feels great."

Since giving a verbal commitment, each commit has developed new relationships, but also a grasp on what it means to be a Wildcat. Each freshman had the opportunity to take in a Northwestern game from the Ryan Field sidelines.

Kenton Playko gave his verbal pledge to Northwestern in March of 2011, then continued to build a bond with his future teammates and coaches. Playko remains thrilled with his decision, more than 15 months later.

"It's very reassuring, the fact that I feel really excited to go there," Playko said by phone while traveling to Evanston with his family. "It's the same as when I first committed, the feeling is still the same. I want to go there, make a name for myself and for this class."

Houston cornerback Dwight White Jr. is one of the latest Lone Star State products to enter the Northwestern football program. White arrived in Evanston days prior to due date, spending time with his family.

White and his parents walked through the scenic campus on commencement weekend, seeing new NU grads celebrate the accomplishment with their families.

"I guess that will be me in for years," he said. "It's a beautiful campus, I'm taking everything in right now, enjoying it and looking forward to starting school on Monday."

Northwestern's newest Wildcats embark on a new journey starting Sunday. Four years stand ahead for 21 friends.

"We want to be the next best class, the class of 2016," White said. "We think we have a lot of good athletes in our class and think it's coming together. We have a good group of guys. We want to make a difference at Northwestern and lead the team to a Big Ten championship."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs. He currently resides on Chicago's north side.
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