by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
The offers have rolled in at a rapid rate for Ian Bunting. The 2014 Hinsdale, Ill, tight end has entertained scholarship overtures from Oregon, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Missouri, Nebraska and Notre Dame, among others, but this Friday, he made his first official visit to Northwestern as part of a big recruiting weekend for the Wildcats whereby five prospects – Bunting, S/WR Dareian Watkins, RB Justin Jackson, LB Tori Millender and WR Cameron Polk – stayed on campus overnight.
There were some nerves early on for Bunting, who was anxious about trying to fit in with a new group of players and recruits. “I didn’t think I was going to be as comfortable,” Bunting said Sunday afternoon after returning from his visit. “I just thought I was going to be kind of weird going in there not knowing any one.”
By the time he left, Bunting couldn’t qualify the overwhelmingly optimistic takeaway from the visit. It began Friday night with news that sophomore superback Dan Vitale, Bunting’s expected host, would be unable to show Bunting around campus due to illness. The alternative? Redshirt tackle Eric Olson and wide receiver Mike McHugh. Unlike Vitale, McHugh and Olson may not have been able to talk individual position specifics, but Bunting enjoyed his hosts all the same.
“They were just really, really great guys,” he said. “I got along with them really well. I could definitely see them being my teammates.”
Next on the agenda was academics. Bunting, a 6’7’’ tight end with excellent strength, speed and quickness, makes no effort to conceal his NFL desires, and he plans on attending a school that can put him in position to achieve that goal. Just as important for Bunting is what happens after football, and Northwestern, he believes, can prepare him for a second career like few other schools can.
In talking to Pat Fitzgerald about his goals both in and outside the game, Bunting connected with a man he calls “really cool,” and a coach he can see himself playing for one day.
“Meeting him was very informative,” he said. “It definitely helped out a lot in sorting out my interests with school and football.”
The unique part about Northwestern, football-wise, is the hybrid h-back position used on offense. Coaches call it a “superback.” Some recruits are scared away by the various passing and blocking responsibilities and skills required to thrive in that spot. Others embrace it.
As Bunting sat down with superbacks coach Bob Heffner to review filmwork at his projected position, Bunting liked what he saw.
“It’s a unique position,” he said. “It’s a position that allows you to showcase a lot of different skills. I see that as a segueway to the NFL.”
One of the biggest takeaways for Bunting, an aspect he believes separates Northwestern from some of the other schools who have inquired about his services, is the quality of people he met on campus. From the coaches to the players to the academic support staff, Bunting had nothing but high praise for the Northwestern community and the people who helped make his weekend visit a memorable one.
“You can have all the flashy facilities and uniforms, but when It’s all said and done, it comes down to the people,” he said. “And they are strong in that category. I was very impressed.”
With no planned visits over the next couple of weeks, Bunting hopes to get more information about his growing list of schools, and he acknowledged he may take a few unplanned trips to some local programs of interest. Later this spring, he will visit Oregon and Notre Dame, and has a tentative mid-summer decision timeline.
His rapid rise up the recruiting ranks will likely see Bunting pick up a few offers in the coming weeks, and with an illustrious sampling of some of the nation’s top major conference programs at his fingertips, Bunting will have some difficult decisions to make in the coming weeks.
Choosing whether or not to plan a return visit to Northwestern is much simpler. Bunting emphasized his desire to get back on campus before making a decision.
“I’m definitely going to want to come back here, because I liked it so much,” he said. “It was a great time. I’m really glad I went.”
However early in the recruiting process as it may be, and for as tantalizing as Bunting’s physical talents are to various perennial BCS contenders, Bunting is at the very least warming up to the idea of one day becoming a Wildcat. That much is clear.