When two major programs exist in one state, as is the case with Northwestern and Illinois, the battleground for top prospects is fierce. It's a point of pride to reign in as much in-state talent as possible, which weakens your rivals' hold on local players.
The Land of Lincoln rivalry is alive and well, thriving both on the football field and the recruiting trail, as NU coach Pat Fitzgerald and Illinois coach Tim Beckman compete for the state's top players. 2013 Montini Catholic (IL) defensive end Freddy Beaugard is the latest manifestation of the constant recruiting tug of war between these two schools.
The battle will continue, likely through his senior season, but it appears as if NU has the early lead on Beaugard.
"The first time I talked to someone from Northwestern, they were pretty clear about what they wanted," Beaugard said. "They told me they wanted to keep their in-state talent here, that it was really important that they keep players from Illinois."
It was NU running backs coach Matt MacPherson that first contacted Beaugard in February, and it wasn't long before Beaugard became enamored with the school. MacPherson invited him to a showcase in Evanston on June 22, and despite suffering a shoulder injury late in the workout, Beaugard felt he made a good impression on NU coaches.
"I think I did really well," he said. "I moved around really well in my drills, and they told me they liked what I was doing. So, all around, it was a good day, even though I got injured."
Although he wasn't given a formal tour of NU, Beaugard said he was impressed by the facilities, Ryan Field and the overall vibe on campus. He believes strongly in the Wildcats' student-athlete ethos, and said academics will play a huge role in his decision.
Another huge draw for the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Beaugard is the Wildcats' four year bowl streak and the program's upward trajectory under Fitzgerald.
"Northwestern is a great combo," he said. "You have that great football, and an Ivy league education. I don't have to worry about my future if I don't make the NFL, because I know I'll have that education"
One of the potential breakout stars on the Wildcats defense this season is defensive end Deonte Gibson, who after missing all of 2011 with a torn ACL looks poised to make a major impact as a third-down speed rusher this season. Beaugard fits that mold, from a physical and mental standpoint, touting elite speed and quickness along with the attitude and motor needed to excel as a Big Ten edge rusher.
He admits that NU is in his top three along with Minnesota and Eastern Illinois, but he plans to delay his commitment until the winter, after another season of meeting new coaches and weighing his growing list of suitors. He talks regularly with MacPherson and defensive line coach Howie Long and plans to visit NU sometime this year.
"It's definitely one of my best options right now," he said. "I'm going to stay in contact, and visit again, and if they're interested in offering, that will probably be one of my top choices."