Pat Fitzgerald Welcomes Class of 2014

Pat Fitzgerald introduced his full 2014 recruiting class in Chicago.

CHICAGO — There was The Season From Hell. There were four decommitments, including the loss of four-star Dareian Watkins and a swap from Hamilton Anoa'i mere hours before the paperwork was expected to arrive. And yet come Wednesday, Pat Fitzgerald officially welcomed one of the most celebrated recruiting classes in program history. Breathe easy.

"We felt like we dominated Chicagoland again. Our staff did a terrific job, and the backbone of our roster continues to come from Chicagoland," Fitzgerald said at an official press conference at Ditka's Restaurant. Four of NU's newest joiners come from Illinois, with three hailing from Texas and two from both Ohio and New Jersey.

The class touts an impressive combined GPA of 3.65, and all 15 members were team captains. Three players — Garrett Dickerson, Cameron Queiro and Nate Hall — join their older brothers on the team.

A handful of commits had their positions officially clarified Wednesday. Dickerson, the four-star Bergen Catholic (N.J.) standout, was recruited as a tight end and defensive end, but is listed as a superback for Northwestern. Nate Hall is slated to play linebacker, while James Prather and Ben Oxley will start on the D-line and Solomon Vault will line up as a wideout.

As expected, Fitzgerald fielded several questions about the Wildcats' enticing new running back combination of Auston Anderson and Justin Jackson.

"From day one, I really fell in love with Auston," Fitz said. "He reminds me of Venric [Mark]. Similar stature, great vision, has the ability to make people miss, and is just a dynamic football player."

Fitzgerald added that Jackson's high school stats — which include a four-touchdown, 360-yard single-game performance this fall — stack up to the likes of former NU greats Damien Anderson and Tyrell Sutton.

Fitzgerald also addressed the possibility of Clayton Thorson competing with incumbent quarterback Trevor Siemian and freshman Matt Alviti. Several of Northwestern's four defensive linemen figure to compete for minutes this fall as well, and the Cats' struggling O-line gives Tommy Doles and Blake Hance a shot at playing time.

Anecdotes were shared, giving the secretive recruiting process a more approachable angle. Fitzgerald spoke of when he was a graduate assistant at Colorado with Buddy Wyatt, and how he would give his son Fred pizza after practice. Wyatt would call Fitz "pizza pizza man." He'll officially call him "Coach" from here on out.

Fitzgerald hinted at "systematic changes" in regards to how the school will handle early enrollment and grayshirting, but refused to clarify what they entail. Northwestern will take three early decision walk-ons in offensive lineman J.B. Butler, defensive back Jerry Klue and running back Malcolm Bowman. He also spoke candidly of the decommitments Northwestern saw over the past few weeks.

"The core of a commitment is honesty. If you're not going to be honest with us, then you're not a good fit. I now only worry about the kids that we have," he said. "I'm not going to talk about kids that aren't coming to play for us. We didn't lose a couple of guys...We never had them."

But there wasn't much dwelling on what could have been. Every school figures to gain and lose a few recruits as Signing Day approaches, and Northwestern's 22 percent success rate with offers this year is one of the most impressive marks in the Big Ten. Rather, Wednesday's presser focused more on what hopefully will be. Fitzgerald said Parrker Westphal has already impressed in the three workouts he's been to, and cracked a wide smile when asked about the potential of Jackson, Anderson, Thorson and the rest of the star-studded class.

Stay tuned for more on Signing Day as wraps up its coverage of the Class of 2014.

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