Recruiting notebook: Strong class takes shape

With two strong commitments in the books, Northwestern looks poised to maximize another recruiting class.

Northwestern earned the reputation of a "five-year" program. Because the Wildcats frequently exercise redshirts, they might be limited to smaller classes.

With 85 scholarships available, 19 of which were spent on 2013 signees, this year's class is likely to be lower in numbers. But after reeling in two excellent commits already, it's becoming apparent that Pat Fitzgerald and his staff plan to haul in another strong group.

Quality over quantity, right?

The quieter early commit — one with stunning potential — might be just as significant. Jordan Thomas, who received significant SEC interest, gave his verbal to NU without hesitation. He is another solid, athletic player who believes in the importance of academics.

Not only that, the three-star safety from Klein Collins (Tex.) continues to improve the secondary outlook for NU. The unit, which struggled in 2011 and looked only marginally better in 2012, could use new talent. It fills a need.

With Traveon Henry and Ibraheim Campbell the presumed starters at safety, there is reason for optimism. Nick VanHoose occupies one cornerback spot. Redshirt freshman Dwight White, true freshman Keith Watkins and junior Daniel Jones expect to compete for the other — and it's likely one of them emerges. Because of past experience, Jones appears to lead the pack, but this new-look secondary demonstrates the strides NU has made on the recruiting front.

NU continues to build its reputation, particularly at the quarterback position. The Wildcats locked up their future in the past two season with the addition of Matt Alviti, and now high three-star pivot from Wheaton North (Ill.), Clayton Thorson.

This sent an appropriate and powerful message. The Cats offered DeShone Kizer, and took the lead in Chris Durkin's recruitment. Now, after locking up another dynamic talent in Thorson, it is almost guaranteed that Durkin and Kizer are out of their current picture. With two strong commits in hand, NU can move onto realizing its recruiting ambitions.

It's beginning to resemble last season.

Last year, Alviti became the unquestioned leader of his class before it even took shape. He was the first to give his verbal, a powerful start that bloomed into a solid class loaded with underdogs. Best of all, they filled the holes.

Blake King — the promising offensive lineman from Minooka (Ill.) — followed suit. Then, in a busy first week of June, the class began to fill out. NU honed in on the O-line after losing several starters in back-to-back seasons. The Cats added King, Tyler Lancaster (who will begin his career on the defensive line), Brad North and Sam Coverdale. They recognized the need, and filled it.

NU cannot sign 25 players, like other schools can. Instead, the program works to develop potential, and to maximize players at every roster position. There's no room for poor signings. They find a certain type of player — usually someone with character and athleticism — and work tirelessly and efficiently to bring him to Evanston. It's been the recipe for success in recent seasons, especially the 2010 group. Nearly every addition from that class has contributed on the field. It's very impressive, as evidenced by this list.

We might never see Northwestern leading Big Ten recruiting rankings. But for several reasons, they have a knack for getting it right. Thomas and Thorson are positive signs. And expect more to come.

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