There was a prolific state-championship-chasing senior season spent at quarterback, a largely BCS-ignored recruitment, a grudgingly accepted position change, a verbal commitment, a de-commitment, an offer and a choice. Those were the steps, precisely ordered, that led to Tommy Fuessel joining Northwestern’s 2013 class in early December, less than two months before national signing day.
It would have been much easier, and much simpler for Fuessel to connect with the hometown BCS school, had Northwestern simply recruited him right from the start – before Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren snatched him up in the midst of a NIU’s Orange Bowl-highlighted season. Doeren would later leave the Huskies for the same job at North Carolina State, taking a host of his assistants with him, and as soon as Fuessel re-opened his recruitment and began sending out senior highlight tape, Northwestern welcomed him with open arms.
“It was really a fast process,” he said of the time between his commitment to NIU and flipping to NU. “I sent out varsity tape and opened up my recruitment. As soon as that happened, NU came along and said they would recruit me.”
On a two-day visit, Fuessel was presented a package he simply could not rebuff: premier academics, a personable coaching staff, an upbeat and hardworking practice culture and a chance to continue his football career in the Midwest’s premier football conference.
Had it all happened in reverse – Northwestern pursuing Fuessel before NIU latched onto the Lincoln-Way East senior’s immense athletic potential – he knows exactly what his choice would have been.
“The way I see it now, I would have gone to Northwestern,” he said.
Early in the process, Fuessel worked to repair the unsound throwing mechanics coaches told him would never work at the college level. At first, Fuessel wouldn’t listen. He attended various QB camps to try and clean up his delivery, but every time he circled back to reassess his future in football, every time he spoke with another college coach, the same message rang through.
If Fuessel was going to make it in the college ranks, he needed to switch positions.
The conversion is an ongoing project, but Fuessel says he’s making progress – with the help of several local college prospects – each and every day.
“I’m still getting used to it,” he said. “But I’ve been running routes with a couple of teammates, and I’m starting to feel comfortable with it.”
One thing Fuessel can’t teach himself – that he never, ever has to worry about in the midst of his position switch – is speed. Fuessel’s last 40-yard dash time, he says, was a blazing 4.34, recorded last year at a University of Illinois prospect combine. A different physical goal, adding weight (Fuessel is 6’3’’, 187 pounds) will be a more focused objective of his training and weight room regimen this summer.
“I need to get bigger and stronger if I want to survive,” he says.
He’s embraced his new position and works hard every day to try and get up to speed on the subtle nuances of route-running and pass-catching and every other minute detail that goes into becoming a Big Ten wide receiver. But the dream of playing quarterback is not completely lost – not at Northwestern, where the Wildcats ran an option package last season that could afford Fuessel a snap or two at some point during his college career.
“That’d be pretty awesome,” he says.
Position switches are an unavoidable fact of modern football recruiting. Players bend and make concessions on their positional preferences to give themselves the best possible chance of attending their favorite programs. Fuessel’s decision never came down to position – NIU planned to have him at wideout, too. His choice to attend Northwestern almost reflexively, just a day after receiving a scholarship offer, was about the opportunity to play for a school he once felt foolish ever considering in the first place. That was back when no BCS school would give him a second look, Wildcats included.
Now Fuessel believes he’s in the best possible situation. “It really is an amazing place,” he said.
It took a circuitous rapid-fire succession of dominoes, a whirlwind of recruiting developments crammed into a one-month window. Fuessel emerged a Wildcat, and now the path he trod, unwillingly or no, was gratifying in hindsight.