Most Northwestern fans think the Wildcats’ 0-7 conference record is indicative of the program’s current standing in the Big Ten. Last year’s 10-win season, which included the program’s first bowl victory in more than decades, feels like old news at this point. That’s the prevailing sentiment, and it makes sense: major college football teams should be judged less by past accomplishments than current performance. Northwestern has a failing grade in the latter category, by most fans’ lights.
There are some people who believe the Wildcats are closer to the team that won 10 games last season than the one that crashed and burned following a 4-0 start this season. One of those people is Darrin Kirkland Jr.
“I see them as the 10-win team from last year,” Kirkland, a four-star linebacker in the class of 2015 from Indianapolis, said Wednesday. “I really like where the program is headed.” Kirkland pointed out that many of Northwestern’s losses this season have come down to one or two plays in crucial situations. “I think they [Northwestern] will be fine,” he said.
Kirkland was at Northwestern for Saturday’s home game against Michigan State, and said he enjoyed everything about his visit – from his tour of the football facilities, to his meeting with an academic coordinator to his conversation with coaches after the game.
What really stuck with Kirkland – who after his sophomore year transferred away from private school Park Tudor to public Lawrence Central, a move he said was “best for me and my family” – was the information he took away regarding Northwestern’s academics. “That No. 1 APR rating – that was impressive,” Kirkland, who holds a 3.5 GPA, said.
According to Kirkland, College coaches view him as more of a “hybrid guy” than a middle linebacker. Kirkland, who stands 6-foot-2, weighs 215 pounds and says he was clocked at 4.58 in the 40-yd dash, can play several different positions. He did not say which position Northwestern coaches believe he would potentially play in the Wildcats’ defense, but Kirkland said they were complimentary of his playmaking abilities.
“They were really excited about me,” Kirkland said. “They think I can contribute a lot to their program.”
With offers from Northwestern, Louisville, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia Tech and other schools, Kirkland is beginning to draw the interest of upper-echelon Big Ten programs, including Ohio State and Michigan. Kirkland has visited Ohio State and will take in The Game from the Big House this weekend. The Indianapolis native has also taken visits to Louisville, Purdue, Indiana and Virginia Tech.
Kirkland is in no rush to make a decision, or even create a list of top schools. He would like to settle on a school before his senior season, but in the meantime, he plans on taking plenty of visits to see which program fits him best.
One of those visits, Kirkland hopes, will be a return trip to Evanston.
“I’d like to come back,” he said.
School: Lawrence Central (In.)
Crystal ball: 67% Virginia Tech
Other offers: Louisville, Indiana, Virginia Tech, others
Notes: Enjoyed visit to Northwestern in November, would like to make another unofficial visit.