NU closes with skill, intensity

Northwestern landed another big-time commitment after an excellent visit. Now, it's becoming more clear that this staff knows how to close.

Many commits occur shortly after campus visits, and that only seems natural. Three-star defensive end Noah Westerfield needed to feel comfortable–they all say it–when he arrived in Evanston.

Westerfield not only experienced the warmth of that Northwestern coaching staff, but also became sold on the complete pitch. He told our Steven Goldstein after the visit that Fitzgerald lined up his favorite schools and compared graduation rates.

It's all pretty self-explanatory: His "top three" also included Boise State and SMU. Those two schools lag well behind in academic prestige. SMU, which recruited him at linebacker, also oddly signed a bunch of other guys at his position–leaving one of their top priorities on the fringe of "grayshirting."

Fitzgerald can be flexible in his pitch. His reputation, too, speaks for itself. But he knows how to close, something demonstrated by the latest sell. Before his family trip to Chicago (and then Evanston) Westerfield planned on making it up to Boise State. That top three blurred together, and on his first legit visit, SMU failed to close. It's a shame they missed out.

Another thing: Everyone NU offers is worth something. They don't back into commitments (like Illinois has with its abundance of offers) but study their game intensely before pulling the trigger. The team's major need was at defensive end. The staff didn't want to waste time filling it.

It shows some edge that Fitzgerald went over graduation rates. It's not even negative recruiting; he simply knew the final step to landing Westerfield could well have been academic jockeying. NU was the best on his list in that department. Whatever they needed.

NU continues to close with a flourish. They landed Solomon Vault and Auston Anderson shortly after visits (and Ben Oxley during one). The list goes on. These are some high-stakes visits and the entire team contributes. Current players host recruits overnight, pitching the benefits of this program. Coaches build connections and present themselves with dignity when the prospects show up.

Whenever anyone asks me how NU has achieved such recruiting success, I bring up several important points: Academics, coaches, the rising program and some more. But even more essential could be these excellent visits. Every time someone leaves campus, there's always the thought it could end in a commitment.

Now, everything is urgent for interested players. The race: It's still on. With two spots remaining, you could guess that the next two visits might end the incredible class of 2014 saga. People are sold on this program, and that wasn't so easy a while ago. They visit and they commit.

That involves something incredible in between. For Westerfield, it was the clever decision to compare graduation rates and this seemingly life-changing discussion with Coach Fitzgerald. SMU had the lead, yes, but NU closed when they needed to.

This might be the most important commit of late. Defensive end was the clearest need. The coaching staff offers kids they really want. Now, more often than not, they get them on campus and close quickly.

This process is becoming oh-so routine, and no one's complaining. Fans agonize over the "top three" and "top five" lists around this time of year. But in the end, the commitments are what matters.

NU is showing it's not satisfied with second place. Fitzgerald goes for the kill.


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