An unofficial visit wasn’t necessary. Xavier Menifield knew exactly what he was looking at when he and his mom researched Northwestern on the Internet. Menifield acknowledges he probably could have waited for a few offers from Pac 12 schools – everyone from Oregon to Oregon State to Washington to Stanford, and on down the line, showed varying levels of interest, and there was always the natural connection to UCLA, the school his parents attended – but he didn’t need to.
Convincing conversations with defensive backs coach Jerry Brown and a few exploratory clicks around the vast expanse of college football-related information available on the World Wide Web showed Menifield and his mom all they needed to see.
Besides, he could always visit after verbally committing.
“I feel like I probably could have had a few more options open up,” said Menifield, a 5’10’’, 195-pound running back from Valencia, California. “My mom and I looked up the place quite thoroughly, and if I was comfortable with it, she said she was.”
And with that – a few Google searches and brief exchanges with his Pac-12-educated parents – Northwestern had sealed the verbal allegiance of an explosive back whose size and playing style draw physically natural parallels to current Wildcats running back Venric Mark. When he did finally travel to Evanston one month later, Menifield knew right away he made the right decision. All the research he and his mom did highlighted Northwestern’s most attractive features, and the real life version was just as impressive.
“I loved it,” he said.
Menifield finished his high school career at Sierra Canyon (Ca.) with three first-team All-Alpha League selections, a perfect 15-0 season in 2011 and a Division IV state championship. Now he enters his first season on campus with something completely different: competition.
Over the past three weeks Northwestern has signed two running backs (Justin Jackson and Auston Anderson) that most folks naturally assumed would one day wind up splitting carries and complementing each other’s backfield strengths, all while growing into a symbiotically dangerous one-two punch. Some went as far as to question whether there would be enough carries to go around – whether Jackson and Anderson could coexist in the same backfield.
Never mind the fact that Northwestern has two young tailbacks this season, Malin Jones and Stephen Buckley, set to earn their first extended runs of playing time, or the that the 2013 class brings a player with all the physical capabilities of not only winning but exploding in Mark’s soon-to-be-vacated running back spot (and the possibility of two others, Warren Long and Godwin Igwebuike, joining the backfield with him. Igwebuike could also play safety).
They forgot about Xavier Menifield.
“It’s just more competition,” Menifield said of Northwestern signing two highly-touted running backs in its 2014 class. “I just have to go out there and show my stuff and it will all be fine.”
The recency of Northwestern’s running back signings have distorted a more comprehensive view of the Wildcats’ future backfield options. Menifield will be on campus this summer, fighting and competing to contribute to the running game as soon as 2013, looking to glean every bit of advice from Mark on how to best approach his transition into the college game.
Watching Mark in all 13 games last season, Menifield saw a back that, with an strikingly similar physical build, morphed into one of the nation’s most exciting backfield threats. The motivation to emulate Mark’s slippery, sneaky, electrifying running style was immediate.
“He’s truly inspirational,” Menifield said of Mark. “He’s a smaller guy going against huge Big Ten D-lines and linebackers. He’s just really fun to watch.”
When describing his own running style, you’ll hear Menifield run off many of the same traits that made Mark so frustratingly difficult for opposing defenses to contain last season. He talks about being “fast” and a “smaller guy” and “moving around blockers easily” and “blowing by his competition.” Menifield emphasized one last point.
“I want to wow people,” he said.
Whether this season or next, alongside Jackson and Anderson or in front of them, true freshman or redshirt, scout team or week 6 homecoming night against Ohio State (the game Menifield pinpointed on this season’s schedule), Menifield just wants his chance. “Wherever I can,” he said.
Redshirting this season won’t stop Menifield, nor will a couple of prominent running back recruits. Menifield’s Mark-ian style and physical dimensions, packaged with an uncanny confidence and clarity about his future in the Wildcats offense, make him an excellent fit in Northwestern’s backfield.
“I just want to do the best that I can,” he said. “I want to make everybody proud.”
It was easy to be “wowed” basically every time Mark touched the ball last season. Menifield intends to leave the same impression.