School: Bolingbrook (IL)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-0/186 pounds
Other offers: Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, others
What You Should Know
Westphal is the cover boy for this class, and he’s a big reason why some are calling it the best Northwestern recruiting haul ever. His offer list, a who’s who of the college football elite, speaks for itself. Then there are the recruiting rankings – ESPN has dubbed Westphal a top-100 player nationally, and on top of that, a top-ten cornerback in the class of 2014.
Westphal possesses a comprehensive list of attributes that are coveted in defensive backs. His size is optimal at either the cornerback or safety position, and it allows him to be physical with opposing receivers. He reads the game well, and is also valuable in run support – two reasons that we could potentially see him at safety, though he’s planning to play cornerback.
Then there’s the big question: How soon will Westphal play? He has enrolled early at Northwestern – a first for a player under Fitzgerald – meaning he completed his high school graduation requirements and is already on campus and taking classes. This will allow him to participate in spring practice, which commences later this month.
Could his early arrival be a sign that there are plans for him to play right away? The cornerback position is currently filled with question marks. Nick Van Hoose, who was considered a key player entering 2013, had a disappointing season. He’ll be a junior in 2014. Matthew Harris claimed all-Big Ten Freshman First Team honors last season, and his future looks bright, but he’s not a guaranteed entity. Dwight White struggled mightily last year as a red-shirt freshman – and only saw the field because Daniel Jones tore his ACL in Week 1 vs. Cal. Jones will back in 2014, albeit coming off surgery. Then there’s also Marcus McShepard and Keith Watkins, both of whom redshirted last year, to consider.
The obvious argument against Westphal playing right away is the depth at the position, as well as the time often needed to refine technique and schematic knowledge. But the argument in favor of him receiving early playing time is his talent – and that the moment he steps on the practice field, he’ll arguably be the most impressive player from a physical standpoint in Northwestern’s defensive backfield. Plus, he’ll get a leg up by enrolling early and getting to participate in spring practice.
Westphal could be one of those special players that is able to immediately adapt to the pace of college football. But even if he doesn’t play a major role in 2014, he has the potential to be a high-impact player for at least two or three years – if not four – at Northwestern, and he could be one of the catalysts for the rise of this program into the top tier of the Big Ten, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“Being able to play for Coach Fitz,” Westphal told 247 Sports after his commitment. “I just felt at home. I had a great relationship with the players. I had a great relationship with the commits and the coaches.”