There is one spot reserved for an outside linebacker in Northwestern’s 2014 recruiting class, and Belleville (Ill.) LB Tori Millender thinks he might just be able to snatch it. Wide receivers coach Dennis Springer broke down the crude class-position calculus, and Millender embraces the challenge.
“It’s pretty much up to me,” he said. “I have to prove myself."
His chance will come this June, when Northwestern hosts one of its summer prospect camps. Millender has already been to Northwestern twice – the latest a two-night stay for a spring practice in April – but his third trip could bring to bear something like a do-or-die scenario. If he plays to his maximum potential, sideline-to-sideline range and disciplined tackling and the like, Millender believes he could receive an offer from the Wildcats.
His interpretation of Springer’s words sounds like an ultimatum, or something close to it, because it is. “He [Springer] told me they’re holding that spot,” Millender said. “I just need to play my best.”
As is, Millender holds an offer from Purdue, and has a swath of other Big Ten and other high major programs (Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa State, Missouri, Cal, Stanford) that contact him regularly.
“Averse” would be the wrong way to describe Millender’s feelings on the possibility of spending his college career outside the Big Ten. If Millender finds the right fit in another league, he jump at the opportunity. The Big Ten simply “fits my playing style.”
There’s also the simple fact that Millender wants his parents – and cousin, Sidney, who currently attends Northwestern – to be able to watch him play. Northwestern offers that luxury for the Belleville, Illinois, native, with the obvious benefit of top-notch academics.
“Academics are number one for me,” Millender said of his decision criteria. “When you start looking at BCS schools, all the lights and flashes and the weight rooms are the same to me. Academics comes before all of that.”
The rigor of Northwestern’s coursework kept Millender’s interest at a tepid level early on, but after getting some advice from his cousin, his self-proclaimed “guide” for all things Northwestern, Millender was convinced he could balance his class work with football responsibilities.
With that looming fear out of the way, Millender needed to prove to coaches (Northwestern included) that his high school playing weight of 235 could be slashed to better suit his projected college position. After a busy fall season, Millender hit his usual offseason training regimen with newfound motivation and quickly slimmed down to a tidy 220.
The extra conditioning paid off – Millender says his ability to drop back in coverage and mark receivers, the one common concern among coaches, improved greatly.
“I feel much better,” he said.
The only update Millender has on his decision timeline is, in essence, that there’s no decision timeline at all. He says his choice will be “completely spontaneous.” In exact detail, here’s a rough outline of Millender’s plan for verbally committing: if he wakes up one morning and feels set on a certain school, then wakes up one day later and feels the exact same way, then it’s official.
Um, yeah: “spontaneous”.
His list of top schools isn’t quite as blurry or arbitrarily constructed. When asked to list off a few of his favorite programs without considering the unavoidable fact that two programs (Purdue and Arkansas State) have already offered scholarships, Millender read off the following: Arkansas State, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois.
An offer from Northwestern would distinguish the Wildcats, and he invites the opportunity to join a 2014 recruiting class that’s landing lofty prospects by the day.
“I would definitely be pretty happy,” he said. “I know I would have to make a decision quickly, because they’re hot. That spot can get taken fast.”
The pace of Northwestern’s recent recruiting work lines up rather nicely with Millender’s idea of a college choice. It’s been quick and unexpected and pleasantly surprising and it’s all packaged neatly into a 10-member group.
For Millender to become number 11, two things need to happen. First, a scholarship offer. Next, two consecutive nights of Northwestern-filled dreams, and a quick, spur of the moment, spontaneous decision to follow.
School: Belleville West (IL)
Other offers: Purdue offer, other Big Ten interest
Profiles: Scout, Rivals, ESPN
Notes: Visit to NU weekend of March 9, visit to Iowa on April 6, according to Scout