Just a couple days after getting its third commitment from OLB Cameron Queiro, Northwestern added its fourth verbal to the 2014 recruiting class: OT/DT Ben Oxley. Check out our recruiting board for more info on who has visited and who has NU high on their list.
What's the Hype?
Like Queiro, Oxley is a solid prospect whose versatility could turn him into a very good player in NU's system. He's listed as an offensive tackle, but NU will likely start him out at defensive tackle when he gets to campus. At 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, he already has impressive size to be a defensive tackle — though he needs to put more weight on regardless — and to become an offensive tackle in the Big Ten, he would need to put on a lot more weight. Nevertheless, there is certainly the possibility that Oxley can make the switch, since he has experience there and Pat Fitzgerald is not scared of switching players' positions. In fact, he told us that he prefers playing on the offensive side, even though he is open to both sides of the ball.
“They told me they want me at offensive or defensive line,” he said. “I see myself as more of an offensive lineman but I love playing on both sides of the ball.”
But after his visit, he opened up his thinking even more.
“They said It’s probably going to be a defensive tackle,” he said. “But that’s subject to change. Coming into it I was leaning towards offense, but after learning about the other side, I’ll play wherever.”
While Fitzgerald is undoubtedly excited to have added another solid, versatile player, Oxley seems just as excited to have made it official. Really, his commitment felt more like a formality. A couple weeks ago, he said NU was his No. 1 school and said, "I could see myself making a decision (on the visit)." That visit happened April 5 and 6, as Oxley took in a spring practice. Now it's official, and while Oxley still doesn't know what side of the ball he will be playing in college, he knows where he'll be.
Versatility Goes a Long Way
When Northwestern's coaches start the recruiting process each year, they sit down and discuss their needs. Each class reflects those needs, and the secondary and offensive line have been key in the past few years. However, the NU staff is mostly focused on getting the best players it can get, then fitting the pieces to the puzzle once the recruits are on campus. Fitzgerald isn't scared to change players' positions, be it after they've gotten to campus or before their time at NU even begins. Safety Jimmy Hall came in as a wide receiver, running back Venric Mark came in as a wide receiver, linebacker Joseph Jones came in as a safety and offensive tackle Jack Konopka came in as an offensive lineman, then switched to superback, then played some guard and tackle before switching to tackle full time. So it doesn't really matter what Oxley's recruiting profile says — Fitzgerald will make Oxley whatever he wants.
While Oxley will probably begin his NU career at defensive tackle, it's important to not discount what Oxley thinks, because Fitzgerald does take that into account. Regardless, the fact that Oxley can play on both sides of the ball makes him valuable to NU, and it can help him see the field earlier. Sometimes, players who can play two positions get lost in the shuffle because they don't have a focus. However, Fitzgerald decides what a player's focus is going to be and has them commit to it, even if the focus position changes a time or two.
Oxley may not fit the offensive line or defensive line profile just yet, but he has the tools to be a standout at either one. He's experienced on the offensive line and has the frame to be a solid offensive tackle if he puts weight on during his senior year of high school and a likely redshirt year. More likely, he can use his impressive combination of agility and size to be a very productive defensive tackle. Having the skill set to play two completely different positions makes Oxley an asset for NU, so while there may be some uncertainty surrounding his college career right now, it can pay off in the end.