One of the most unpredictable things about college football in general, and team-building concepts more specifically, is pinpointing potential recruiting commitments. There are inklings here and there, and decisions look imminent all the time, but every so often you get players who simply enjoy the attention, who throw out a few quotes to arrest message board diehards – intentionally or no – into a frenzy of comment-lobbing warfare. They say something just to throw you off the scent, and when their eventual college choice reflects nothing mentioned in previous stories or interviews, fans are left genuinely dumbfounded. Sad. Disheartened. You’ve been warned.
This past weekend, an outside commitment advanced recent comments from 2014 running back and Northwestern target Justin Jackson into a more singularly focused prism of school selection (if that’s even a real thing in recruiting). Jackson and Mikale Wilbon are two of Illinois’ more coveted running back prospects, both have been the subject of concerted recruiting interest from academically-similar institution Vanderbilt and on Saturday, Wilbon – whose surname almost screamed “Northwestern” – made it official with the Commodores.
What does this mean for Jackson? Last word from the Glenbard North tailback, who has been consistent in calling Northwestern the leader in his clubhouse, was that Vanderbilt was starting to loosen his weak verbal leanings to the Wildcats. Jackson recently checked in with Rivals.com, and his description described a program that checked all of Jackson’s boxes: best league in the country, academic stature, you name it.
"Northwestern is still my leader but Vanderbilt really have made things more interesting. They also have a lot to offer on and off the field much like Northwestern plus they play in the SEC.”
He also recently visited Iowa (and had high praise for the AIRHBG-lurking program), and picked up offers from Missouri and Cincinnati, both of which are objectively rising programs, although in completely different ways – the Bearcats with a well-respected SEC-experienced coach (Tommy Tuberville) and Missouri with its shiny new SEC conference membership.
I don’t mean to belabor the SEC point – the SEC-SEC-SEC war cries are intolerable and annoying in every possible way – but league cachet clearly holds weight in Jackson’s decision.
Now that Vanderbilt has signed a local running back in this class, it would appear that Jackson might reconsider ever reconsidering Northwestern for Vanderbilt in the first place. Maybe Wilbon’s commitment is the outside impetus Jackson needed to clear his mind and seal the deal with the Wildcats. Maybe Vanderbilt will pursue Jackson more strongly than ever, intent on pulling in two Illinois running backs and land the third backfield piece of their 2014 class.
In any case, the observational evidence, paired with Jackson’s quotes, suggest he may be one step closer to making his commitment. Recruiting is all about picking up hints and interpreting them into a coherent factual chronicle. Jackson’s has a new variable to consider, if nothing else.