Commitments piled up faster than anyone could keep track, and each step of the way, Northwestern’s 2014 recruiting class climbed higher and higher in the national rankings. The Wildcats appeared to have reached a temporary stasis at 10 commits – re: “appear to” – but that number changed right as we were brainstorming our next debate topic. Pat Fitzgerald is putting the full court press on his most coveted targets, and this year more than any other, wins on the field and general recognition of Fitzgerald’s standup personality and engaging coaching style are making top prospects reconsider a program once viewed through the prism of Big Ten also-ran status.
Other prospects are taking notice, and before Northwestern lands its next commitment, we’ve decided to scan the landscape and identify a recruit whose addition would take Northwestern’s already best-ever (arguable) 2014 class to a whole new level. Call it the best “get” available on the board. Neither of our choices are hopelessly unrealistic – nor are they even close to what anyone would call sure things. Each pick is ambitiously plausible enough to consider, while still allowing the strong possibility they choose another program. The most potentially impactful prospective additions within Northwestern’s range of recruiting influence, players who have already shown interest in the program, is another good way to look at it. The exercise will become clearer once you read the arguments below.
School: Bergen Catholic (NJ)
Other offers: Alabama, Arizona, Boston College, UConn, Florida State, Maryland, Michigan, NC State, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Carolina, Stanford, Syracuse, Tennessee, Toledo, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin
Profiles: Scout, Rivals, ESPN
Notes: Would be a tough get considering other offers, but his brother, Cameron, is currently a wide receiver at NU; Has good relationship with NU coaches and being “recruited” by 2014 commit Cameron Queiro; Visited NU weekend of April 13, according to Wildcat Report
If we can safely assume Northwestern’s class will max out somewhere around 15 players, the Wildcats still have a few more important areas they need to address, and not a whole lot of room left to address them. Tight end or superback and defensive end are two important holes, and Dickerson, the No. 4 TE in 2014, according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, could fill either of those spots.
His top five list of schools (Alabama, Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State and Stanford) should give you an idea of how talented and versatile Dickerson really is. Dickerson would be a huge addition to any program’s recruiting class; he would send Northwestern fans’ bullish recruiting optimism into a stratospheric nirvana. With so many respectable offers at his disposal, and a top-five list that counts two-time defending BCS National Champion Alabama, Big Ten frontrunner Ohio State and college sports’ archetypal academic-athletic Pac-12 powerhouse (Stanford), Dickerson can’t go wrong wherever he chooses. Why he would pick Northwestern over any of those programs, if you believe his most recent comments on the matter, can be tidily summed as a two-pronged argument involving his brother, Cameron, signing with the Wildcats just three years ago, along with his strong relationships with coaches – whom in the above-linked article Dickerson referred to as “my coaches.”
This debate isn’t about Dickerson’s actual chances of joining the Wildcats – I don’t know Dickerson’s intentions, and I’d rather not waste any of my or your time throwing darts at his current leanings in this space. The spirit of this debate rides on the assumption he will commit to NU, and if Dickerson does indeed join older bro Cameron in Evanston, Northwestern will have landed its most heralded recruit since defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo signed on with the Wildcats in 2012. He holds more than 20 scholarship offers from BCS programs, and at this point can basically hand pick his collegiate destination. Who wouldn’t want a 6-4, 240 pound speed-rushing wrecking ball, a smooth pass-catching threat with precise route-running ability and a high-football IQ? Either half would be plenty fine by its own reckoning. Dickerson offers both, and he’s not making any demands on which side of the ball he plans to play on.
Offensively or defensively, Dickerson would bring to Northwestern’s 2014 class what Odenigbo brought to 2012 – an eminently revered Golden Ticket in a Wonkian factory of delectable recruiting treats. Northwestern would very much like to land Garrett Dickerson. Any program would. If it doesn’t, the 2014 class may not rate as well on the final star chart round up, and the Wildcats wouldn’t have a distinguished national blue-chipper to count in its ranks (unless it manages to land another prospect of similar star-appraised acclaim in 2014), but the group would still have to be considered one of the two or so best classes in program history, and on balance a hugely talented and versatile mix of future contributors. Dickerson elevates Northwestern’s recruiting cachet, offers an exciting two-way piece for a young core rounding into Western Division (starting in 2014) and Big Ten contention contention, and instantly fills one of the Wildcats’ biggest remaining recruiting needs.
Getting Dickerson would give Northwestern football, and message board-frequenting recruiting dreamcasters, everything and anything they could ask for.
- Chris Johnson
School: Bolingbrook (IL)
Other offers: Cincinnati, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Purdue, West Virginia
Profiles: Scout, Rivals, ESPN
Notes: Visited NU first weekend of March; Said NU is one of his favorites; Will likely commit before his senior season
Garrett Dickerson and Derek Kief might have the best sets of offers out of all Northwestern targets, but once you get to the "Florida offer vs. Alabama offer" point, everyone you're dealing with is pretty good, and in that sense, Parrker Westphal is up there as one of the best NU targets left on the board. He also considers the Wildcats one of his favorite schools, meaning they're right up there battling Florida, Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State for this local product.
A couple years ago — heck, maybe one year ago — NU wouldn't have been in the running for Westphal. He's not the kind of top prospect who is going to pick a struggling school and try to be their savior. He wants to win from the moment he steps on campus. A couple years ago, the Wildcats wouldn't have been able to get that kind of player, but times are changing. Westphal identified NU as a winner in our most recent correspondence with him:
“I just want to go to a school that’s ready to win,” he said.
Well, does Northwestern classify?
“Yeah, for sure. They’re on the rise,” he said.
Getting Westphal to Evanston would be "big" for a couple of reasons. The first, and most obvious reason, is that he's really good. Any time you can beat out Michigan, Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska, etc. for a player, it's a good thing. Plus, it's a good way to build depth in the secondary, which is raking in a lot of talent despite the last few years. This year, NU has all of these corners on the roster: Nick VanHoose, C.J. Bryant, Dwight White, Daniel Jones, Matt Harris, Keith Watkins and Marcus McShepard. Add in Westphal, who would be playing alongside Harris, Watkins and McShepard for most of his career, and that has the potential to be a pretty impressive group.
But aside from the on-field dividends, landing Westphal would also have an impact on the Chicago recruiting scene. Northwestern has done a good job recruiting the Chicago area in this class, but SEC schools, Notre Dame and Michigan have been very successful at grabbing the top recruits from the area. If NU can beat out some of those schools for Westphal, it will be yet another impressive recruiting move that could make the Wildcats players with more elite recruits in the Chicago area. Recruits care about which other players schools are getting, and with Westphal, Justin Jackson and Clayton Thorson all headed to NU from the Chicago suburbs, the Wildcats would certainly have a place at the table in the Chicago recruiting scene.
If NU can't get Westphal, it's not a big deal. They still have a good cornerback recruit on the board in Ladarius Wiley, who lists the Wildcats as his favorite school, and they've already gotten great Chicago area commitments from Jackson and Thorson. However, adding Westphal would be the icing on the cake to an already great recruiting class.
- Kevin Trahan