It's the early fall of 2012. Pat Fitzgerald offered. You like him. You also look at past records, and the 6-7 mark last season, and wonder whether results can ever match character. The Wildcats are good, as are NU degrees, but the prestige lags behind some other Big Ten programs.
Then they start playing. Well, you like the Wildcats. They should have beaten Michigan, and gained positive exposure regardless. The "program on the rise" term seems trendy and exciting; it's another selling point. So you wake up and watch the Gator Bowl to pregame for Jadeveon Clowney's greatness. They win. In fact, this leads to years worth of PR, with every major media outlet covering the "monkey off the back." Fitzgerald embraces it and the team talks future championships.
It's an attractive opportunity, but there are some lingering question marks. The team struggled to haul in top-level recruiting classes, in part due to its reputation as a "five-year program," but you don't really care about that. There might be less luster than other programs. Less glitz. It makes sense to you, a top priority for the class of 2014. Will other players listen? That might be the last step.
You're a Northwestern recruit.
Clayton Thorson commits in March. There's a start. He understood that the class would only accept one quarterback, and refused to let the chance slide. It's nice to know that Thorson and Matt Alviti will be under center in future seasons—helping to continue the budding tradition of strong quarterback play. But then everything starts flying. Why?
There's Cameron Queiro, brother of current player Kyle. Ben Oxley shores up the future of the offensive line. Solomon Vault, Auston Anderson and Justin Jackson join the already loaded backfield. And Dareian Watkins? You hear he's pretty darn good, too. The nucleus of this class shapes up quickly, especially compared to previous groups at Northwestern. (Also, Fitzgerald tends to direct message you whenever someone commits, ICYMI.) It typically takes a few pieces to fall in place, and then everything else follows suit. But now (earlier than ever) the momentum picks up, the team moves into the top 15 of some recruiting rankings–if for a moment–and you feel validated in considering the team in the first place.
You're not quite sure yet, perhaps because you're from California or Texas and can't just wake up and travel to Evanston. The process requires some time. But man, does NU seem serious. That program has your attention. It makes your latest cut.
You're a Northwestern recruit.
It slowed down for just a moment, but now, there are three spots remaining for the class of 2014. Those could evaporate within the span of two days. Blake Hance filled out the O-line, Fred Wyatt rounded out the D-line and Nathan Hall added to the always-important sibling quota.
The coaching staff stresses this scholarship limit, explaining that you need to visit pretty quickly, or else the class will fill up. Need proof? They're not accepting any more offensive commitments. The almost unconditional needs: defensive back and defensive end. Maybe there could be one more linebacker. So come to Evanston, they say. We can probably explain why there are 12 excellent commits, why this is (arguably) our best class in history and how you would fit in. Give us a shot.
There's a lot of pressure to wrap up this process. Ideally, this runs its course as you so choose, but that hardly ever works out. It's a decision of unfathomable gravity, committing to this team for four or five years. You need to get it right.
Visit whenever. Stall. Delay. Run the risk of losing this chance for fear of making the wrong choice. And you think to yourself: "What if I missed out on this opportunity?"
Three are left. The race is on.