Here’s how you know Ben Oxley isn’t messing around. In the 24 hours since giving coach Pat Fitzgerald his verbal commitment to join Northwestern as the fourth member of the Wildcats’ 2014 class, Oxley has already spread the word to all his close friends and family members, exchanged cell phone numbers with fellow 2014 quarterback commit Clayton Thorson and reached out to the rest of his classmates through Facebook messaging.
“It was a very exciting time,” an elated Oxley said of his commitment Saturday. “There’s nothing like it.”
The decision was a long time coming. Oxley had proclaimed Northwestern his No. 1 school three weeks ago. This weekend merely reaffirmed Oxley’s most basic beliefs about the school he will now call home over the next four years – academic prestige, an upward trajectory in the Big Ten, a vibrant but measured head coach.
But there was one missing piece. “You can always research the academics and stuff like that,” he said. The ultimate selling point was something Oxley could experience only by rooming overnight and getting to know the coaches and players. “It was the people. That’s what did it.”
Before that decisive meeting with Fitzgerald, Oxley enjoyed what’s slowly and rather hilariously become a staple of Northwestern workouts. The Wildcats routinely send players – especially big, hulking, not-fleet-of-foot linemen – through dizzying exercises involving fielding high punts and spinning in circles, all to the delight of teammates, who can’t help but restrain their laughter at watching their massive peers try and perform kinetically difficult tasks. Oxley was just as easily amused.
“I thought it was hilarious,” he said. “It just showed me they know how to have fun and how to work hard.”
Fun diversions like that, on top of the personal relationships forged over a weekend talking and hanging out with Northwestern players, convinced Oxley it was time. Good academics? Check. Rising football program? Check. Parental approval? Check. Relationships with coaches and players? No doubt about it. Oxley was a Wildcat.
“I was above and beyond impressed with everything,” he said. “Not only him [Fitzgerald] but the rest of the coaching staff down to the academic staff. The place is full of great people.”
Before he made it official, Oxley had a decision to make. Over conversations with coaches throughout his recruitment, Oxley addressed the possibility of playing defensive tackle in the college ranks. That would have been something of an issue, were it not for Oxley’s unwavering affinity for everything else (academics, football, location, people) about Northwestern. He was willing to swallow a little bit of his pride – meaning he could very well wind up at DT, even though coaches assured “they want me at offensive and defensive tackle” – if it meant joining the school he’s propped up above all others for quite some time now.
Positional preferences aside, this was an easy decision for Oxley.
“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.”
Family, friends and coaches are well aware of Oxley’s decision. He is relieved to have finally closed the book on his recruitment, to receive so much positive feedback from friends and family and to have shifted his focus towards school and having another strong season at Avon Lake High School (Ohio).
“Having the backing of my parents and friends is nice,” he said. “It’s nice to finally know.”
I wouldn’t expect him to celebrate all that much – Oxley wants to get to know the 2014 classmates, the people, who made the same decision at the same school, who he will join in Evanston next summer.