After spring football, once players have packed up for third quarter classes and otherwise taken shelter from the near year-round media spotlight, the offseason starts to feel like an endless march towards fall. At the end of the tunnel is football, alas, and soon enough we’ll be breaking down opponents and churning out preseason material and analyzing training camp developments. On the first Monday of June, we’re talking recruiting, the biggest football-related topic of any offseason, really, and an even bigger one for the Wildcats’ 2014 recruiting efforts. Pat Fitzgerald has assembled what many are considering, just 11 deep to date, the best class in program history. Agree or not, one point of shared realization is Northwestern’s approximate class size.
The most popular projection I’ve heard is 15, and if that’s the case Northwestern has just four more spots to fill before closing shop, calling it a day and tabling all 2014 recruiting developments until signing day. In the spirit of post-March Madness ennui (we miss basketball, too!), Kevin and I have come up with our “Final Four” recruits for 2014. This is our prediction – drawing on conversations and hearsay and different stories and the oh so important general “gut” feeling you get talking to these kids – for how Northwestern will fill out the rest of its class. Our choices won’t be received with unanimous approval, but that’s part of the point. We know you have your thoughts on this topic. We’ve seen them hashed out in disjointed bits in comment sections over the past few months, but we want to know where you agree, where you don’t, and how you think our prediction should/can be revised.
Anyway, this frothy introductory prelude has been drawn out long enough. You know the deal. Time is ticking – you never know when Northwestern could strike again, turn the Final four into a Terrific Three (?) and mandate the hasty assemblage of another similar, shorter recruiting prediction.
Of all four players on this list, Westphal would likely be the toughest "get" for NU, considering the quality of his offers. In addition to the Wildcats, he's also considering Florida, Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Nebraska, among others. So while we're including him on this list right now, there's certainly a very good chance he could end up somewhere else. However, NU has a decent chance as well, and there aren't any other recruits who look like "surer bets" than Westphal right now. He lists the Wildcats as one of his favorites and considers NU a place where he can win right away, which is one of his main criteria. It also can't hurt that Michigan — another school he likes — just landed the country's top corner, Jabrill Peppers.
If NU can, indeed, land Westphal, it will put a cherry on top of what is already the best recruiting class in the "recruiting rankings era." It would also be a big win for the Wildcats in Chicago as they continue to build their presence as a major player in the area — a Chicago haul of four-stars Westphal, Justin Jackson and Clayton Thorson would certainly do that.
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
Not much has changed in Woods' recruitment for awhile, but he's high on NU and definitely has the potential to end up in Evanston. He still has to choose between playing basketball and football — he has some mid-major basketball offers — but if he chooses football, he'll be able to choose from Northwestern, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana and some MAC offers, for now. Woods has already visited NU and told Wildcat Report (subscriber only) that the Wildcats would make his top five.
Woods is listed as an athlete, but he'll likely be a receiver if he ends up at NU, and he would be yet another solid offensive skill position player for a class that's full of them — the Wildcats already have one quarterback, two running backs and two receivers. The rest of this class figures to be focused on defense, and NU will be making big pushes at cornerback, defensive end and outside linebacker. However, adding Woods' athleticism and speed would be a plus for NU, too, even if it means adding one less defensive player.
School: Summit Country Day (OH)
Other offers: Akron, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Indiana, Kent State, Miami (OH), Toledo, West Virginia
Profiles: Scout, Rivals, ESPN
Notes: Has mid-major offers for basketball; Has NU in his top 5, according to Rivals
There were some real doubts about Westerfield’s attraction to Northwestern a few weeks ago, when he notified me via text message there might be some disconnect between where he sees himself playing at the next level and Northwestern's planned utilization of his pass-rushing talents. Westerfield and NU coaches have since smoothed things over, and we caught up with the Frisco (Texas) defensive end mere minutes after a reassuring conversation with Pat Fitzgerald.
Any confusion about a projected position or scheme-specific responsibilities with the Wildcats have been replaced by a simple mutual understanding: Westerfield really just wants to do one thing, and one thing only – rush the passer. He brings excellent speed off the edge, tremendous leverage and power coiled up in a 6’4’’, 220-pound frame and has a tremendous every-down motor. He has picked up a few new offers in recent weeks, and Fitzgerald (re: above article) actually encouraged Westerfield to venture out and sample as many schools as possible. The connection he has with coaches, and the luxury of having family members in the Chicago area, has me convinced Westerfield will end up with the Wildcats. Keep your recruiting antennae on high alert come July 1. Westerfield plans to be in Evanston sometime around that date and could commit on the spot.
School: Wakeland (TX)
Other offers: Boise State, Duke, Fresno State, Navy, New Mexico, SMU
Profiles: Scout, Rivals, ESPN
Notes: Received offer on May 4; Reached out to NU and has Wildcats in his top three;Reaffirmed interest to InsideNU on May 21
Plenty of schools have shown serious interest in Wiley, but only four (Northwestern, Cal, Cal Poly and Fresno State) have offered scholarships. He was absolutely thrilled to receive an offer in mid-April from the Wildcats; he called it his first “big offer,” even, and went as far as to say he will seriously consider ending his recruitment with a NU verbal, full stop, when he visits in late June or early July. His mom loves Northwestern, the fact it nudges right up against one of the biggest cities in the country while maintaining the relative small town-feel of Evanston, and is planning to accompany Wiley on his summer visit.
It’s important to mention that landing Wiley is not a disqualifier for Westphal. Wiley can just as easily be switched to safety, for one (At 6’1’’, 185-pound frame, he has the physical dimensions to play anywhere in the secondary), and it’s not as if the Wildcats by necessity cannot sign two cornerbacks in this class. Westphal would be the more splashy get, and maybe landing Wiley would turn him away from the Wildcats. I don’t know. But I don't think Northwestern would shy away from securing verbal commitments from both players, particularly if Westphal verbals after Wiley.
School: Los Angeles, Cathedral (CA)
Other offers: California, Cal Poly, Fresno State
Profiles: Scout, Rivals, ESPN
Notes: Told us NU is his No. 1 as of now; Nice article on Wiley’s excitement over a Big Ten offer, from Rivals; Also receiving interest from Nebraska, Michigan and UCLA, among others
Other names we considered: LB Brandon Lee, S Ron Robinson, SB/DE Garrett Dickerson, WR Derek Kief, LB Jimmy Swain, LB Tori Millender, DE Grant Blankenship, LB Tay Evans, WR Alex Van Dyke (Check our 2014 recruiting board for profiles and brief analysis)
We tried to exclude it altogether, ignore it as long as possible, but it had to mentioned sooner or later: each of our final four players’ last names begins with W. Let us be clear: No, we’re not playing some weird alphabet mind game and no, W-W-W-W isn’t a witty acronym or arcanely coded dark magic symbol or anything like that. Our choices just happened to turn out this way. Again, as a reminder, feel free to post your choices. A lot of fans have a lot to say on this very debate, and we’d like to get all your feedback. Hearing your perspectives help us improve ours, if that makes sense; it’s a symbiotic write-read-comment partnership, and we’d like to hear every last line of outside input -- vehement disagreements and positive reviews and everything in between – you have to offer. All manner of response is much appreciated.