by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
When Auston Anderson first received a scholarship offer from Northwestern, on National Signing Day this year, the Wildcats were at (or near) the top of his list of schools. More than a month later, NU remains in Anderson’s top four, but a recent surge of Pac-12 interest has opened up several new intriguing options for Anderson.
The 5’9’’, 180-pound running back from Plano, Texas, received offers from UCLA, Washington, Stanford all within the last week. The flurry of offers has forced him to reevaluate his recruitment. Anderson still considers Northwestern one of his four favorite schools, but he admits the Cardinal, Bruins and Texas Tech are equally inviting at this stage of his recruiting process.
“It must be a coincidence,” Anderson said of the sudden uptick in West Coast schools offering him a scholarship. What distinguishes the Wildcats, beyond its academic reputation – which Anderson and his parents put in a separate category, along with Stanford – is their early discovery. Coach Matt McPherson visited Anderson for a workout in February, and NU’s offer was Anderson’s first.
He has since remained in contact with MacPherson and coach Pat Fitzgerald, and a recent phone conversation between Fitzgerald and Anderson’s parents magnified Anderson’s personal and familial interest in the Wildcats.
“The main thing for me is they were the first ones to offer me,” he said. “The academic standards are obviously important. And the football program is definitely on the rise.”
Before anything is set in stone, Anderson plans to make several visits this spring and summer, and hopes to make a verbal commitment sometime before his senior season. He will be visiting with the Wildcats April 12-13. That visit, along with the trips he plans to make to UCLA, Stanford, and Texas Tech, could tip his scale one way or another.
Campus life is a big deal.
“For the most part, other than Northwestern and Stanford, all of my favorite schools have equal academics,” he said. “Campus life will be the determining factor.”
It is no surprise to learn that Anderson is familiar with similarly built Texas-bred NU running back Venric Mark, who committed to the Wildcats out of St. Pius (Houston) high school in 2010 and raced for 2,166 all-purpose yards and a first team All-America recognition (FWAA) at punt returner in last season. “I know about him,” remarked Anderson, who salivates at the prospect of playing in a spread offense, the same basic offensive philosophy used by his high school, Plano West, for which he racked up 1,156 yards and 13 touchdowns while garnering All-Collin County Honors last season.
After talking offense with MacPherson, and learning about the nuances of Northwestern’s spread attack, the pass-catching possibilities it allows for speedy running backs of his build, Anderson walked away convinced he would make a perfect scheme-to-skills fit.
“We run the spread at my high school,” he said. “Talking about the offense with Coach McPherson helped me get a better idea of what they [Northwestern] runs.”
Until he embarks on his planned spring/summer visit tour, Anderson will hold off on making a decision. With four offers of great interest, and a rising stature on the 2014 recruiting circuit – a recent appearance at a Rivals Camp Series Event in Dallas showcased Anderson’s skills against some of the best players in the state – Anderson is happy to sit back, entertain as many offers show up on his doorstep in the coming weeks and adjust his decision making process on the fly.
“I’m going to try and go into my senior season committed,” he said. “We’ll see who comes knocking.”
The competition for Anderson’s services has ramped up considerably since Northwestern first offered him last month, but even as his list of interested programs grows from week to week, the Wildcats hold the distinction of being the first program to not just recognize, but definitively commit to Anderson with a scholarship offer.
That fact is not lost on Anderson.
“It means a lot,” he said.