NU's interest wanes in former recruits

Last week Purple Reign caught up with a trio of players – each in the top 20 in the nation at his position – who Northwestern had at one time been recruiting. When asked about the Wildcats, each player said that, despite previous interest, NU hadn't (and probably wouldn't) be offering scholarhsips. Inside, see which 2011 targets are no longer.

Last week Purple Reign caught up with linebackers Nick Lifka and Kellen Jones and running back Remound Wright. Each player said that they thought their relationship with Northwestern would result in an offer, maybe an official visit and – who knows? – maybe even a commitment to the Wildcats. But it wasn't to be.

The trio is proof that, just as players can dictate the recruiting process by nixing a school from the list, so, too, can a university decide it's time to move on.

Let's start with Wright, a Fort Wayne, Ind., native who rates as a four-star recruit and the No. 20 running back in the 2011 class. The 5-8, 195-pound Wright developed what he felt was a solid relationship with NU coaches during his junior season, when he rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 36 touchdowns – not including his two punt-return TDs or two pick-sixes.

Wright said that he has made multiple trips to Evanston, including one last winter to catch a bowl practice.

"I like it a lot up there," said Wright said of NU. "Back during football season last fall, that's when I talked with them the most, but it tapered off since then. I talked with (running backs) coach (Matt) MacPherson, and he said that they were going to offer."

But Wright said an official offer never came.

"I thought they would be my first offer actually, but they weren't. They had seemed like they liked me so much. I was getting letters form them every day, and whenever I was on campus they really seemed to be trying to make something happen. So I was expecting them to be my first offer, but I haven't heard from them in a few months."

As it stands now, Wright mentioned Stanford, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Boston College as potential schools; all of those schools have offered. As for Northwestern? "I haven't really built that great of a relationship with them lately."

Another player NU was reportedly recruiting last fall and winter was Lifka, who is from Naperville. Ranked as the No. 18 middle linebacker in the nation, Lifka, like Wright, once had what he considered a burgeoning relationship with NU.

"Northwestern and me used to talk a lot more during my football season," Lifka said, "but they kind of dropped off with that."

Part of why Lifka thinks his relationship with NU petered out is because he plays middle linebacker, and, according to him, Northwestern wasn't interested in taking him as a middle linebacker. But that's not to say that Lifka wasn't interested in Northwestern.

"They've kind of dropped off the charts for me, unfortunately." Lifka said. "It's obviously a great school. I love their coach. Coach Fitzgerald is a great guy. He's talked a lot at banquets that I've been at and he's a really good guy. But I guess I'm not their guy and that's fine with me."

Lifka, though, will be someone's guy. LSU, USC, Cal, Boston College and numerous others are recruiting him, and more than a dozen schools have made offers. NU hasn't, and apparently won't.

Then there's Jones, another highly-regarded middle linebacker – No. 12 in the nation, according to – who saw his relationship with Northwestern peak early.

"I don't see why Northwestern wasn't interested," Jones, from Houston, said. "I actually did think Northwestern would be one of my offers."

"They were recruiting me previously," Jones added. "It was later on in the school year, in early May or late April, and they told my coach that they were no longer recruiting me. They said they thought I was too big of a prospect."

When asked what exactly he meant by that – that he was "too big of a prospect" – Jones recalled a conversation he had with his high school coach.

"I was like, ‘Coach, what's the deal with Northwestern? I liked them and they liked me.' And he said they thought I was going to be too big of a prospect."

Indeed, Jones is a big prospect. He is a four-star player and has offers from Stanford and Colorado and Arkansas and Vanderbilt and Michigan and a number of other schools.

Still, he says he was disappointed that his relationship with Northwestern has seemingly ended.

"I want an education," said Jones, whose former high school teammate, Venric Mark, committed to NU in the spring. "I don't care about being on a wining program, really. I just want to do well academic-wise. My goal is to go pro, but if that doesn't work out, I want something to fall back on, and Northwestern is a great school.

"I don't know why Northwestern thought I was too big of a prospect. It doesn't matter who you have offers from; you go to the school you really like. A school might have won the national title last year, but what if you don't like the coach? What if you don't like the way they're recruiting you? That's why I was so interested in Northwestern."

Coaches, of course, can't comment publicly on recruits, so there is no way to ask anyone at NU about any of these players. By extension, there is no way to know exactly why Northwestern's interest in these players tapered off (or, for that matter, if the Wildcats were ever that interested to begin with).

Maybe it's what Jones said. Maybe Northwestern viewed some of these guys as too big of prospects, and therefore unlikely to commit. But that doesn't really make sense seeing as Northwestern is still in the hunt for guys like Jordan Walsh (the No. 2 guard in the nation), Miles Shuler (a New Jersey speed-burner with a couple dozen offers) and Savon Huggins (a five-star running back).

Those players are receiving attention coast-to-coast, and Northwestern is still hot on their trails. So one must wonder how accurate it is that these guys were simply "too big."

Maybe it's what Lifka said. Maybe it's an issue of Northwestern not needing these players, this year, at these positions. For instance, the decrease in interest in Wright coincided – at least chronologically – with the commitment of three-star running back Adonis Smith, who will get to campus this fall. And at linebacker, where Lifka and Jones play, Northwestern has inked quality recruits each of the past two seasons. (The 2010 LB class featured three-star recruit Chi Chi Ariguzo, and in '09 the Cats nabbed a trio of linebackers in Roderick Goodlow, Damien Proby and Will Studlien. Goodlow was a three-star prospect, and Proby and Studlien were each ranked in the top 51 of strong-side backers in the nation.)

In the end, who knows. It could be grades or character issues or increased focus on other prospects. Or maybe Northwestern coaches just don't think these guys would fit. Or maybe the Cats want to go after even bigger targets. Whatever it is, it sounds like while Wright, Lifka and Jones continue pile up offers and make summer travel plans, Northwestern won't figure into the equation.

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