CHICAGO – Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald formally announced a 15-man recruiting class Tuesday afternoon during a press conference and reception at Ditka’s restaurant in Chicago.
During his press conference, Fitzgerald offered insight into his class but also dodged some questions about some of his program’s and the school’s policies when it comes to recruiting. Here are some of the highlights from the 35-minute press conference:
- Out of the class’s 15 members, four of them hail from Illinois. According to 247 Sports, Northwestern secured the fifth, sixth and seventh best recruits in the state. All three of those newcomers are from the Chicago area.
“We felt like we dominated Chicagoland again,” Fitzgerald said. “We went out and hard targeted young men that we felt fit our program. If you see the young men that have joined our program in the past, the backbone of our roster is always going to be Chicagoland.”
- According to Fitzgerald, Northwestern offered 66 scholarships to recruits for the class of 2014. The program, he said, is pleased with its success rate in landing the players it wanted.
“I don’t know what’s out there in the dot-come sites,” Fitzgerald said referring to his distaste of the internet, “but basically we had about a 22-percent hit ratio. So for every scholarship we offered, we hit on about 22 percent, which is an unbelievable hit ratio.”
- When compared to other major programs, Northwestern’s 15-man class is relatively small. Fitzgerald, though, credits his current players’ ability to stay out of trouble, leading to few open scholarships left vacated by current members of the team.
“At Northwestern, we have very little attrition,” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t lose players academically. We don’t lose players because of poor social decisions and things of that nature. So the attrition level at our program is very low.”
- For the first time at Northwestern, a member of an incoming recruiting class has enrolled during winter quarter after graduating high school early. Cornerback Parrker Westphal of Bollingbrook, Ill., the highest rated player, according to 247 Sports, in Northwestern’s class started classes at Northwestern in January.
“The only young man that I’ve got a chance to work with so far is Parrker since he early enrolled,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve only been with him at three workouts because I’ve been on the road and I’ve watched him.
“The best analogy I can give for the transition from high school to college,” he continued, “and I think this is across the board the way it works as I’ve talked to my colleagues, is when you go the water fountain in high school, you get a nice trickle of water. You’re really happy about that water. Then, all of the sudden, you go to that same water fountain and a fire hose smacks you in the face. That’s what Parrker’s going through right now...
“That first month is like getting smacked with a fire hose. He’s handled it really well. He went from kind of being a senior and things were going great to midterms in about three weeks. But he’s doing terrific. He’s learning how to be a Wildcat. He’s doing a great job at it.”
- One of the reasons Westphal was able to enroll early was because of some “changes” Northwestern made, according to Fitzgerald.
“There’s been some systemic changes with the University that has allowed us to have some more flexibility,” he said. “So we are very thankful for that and we will see how things progress on a case-by-case basis.”
When asked about what those changes addressed, Fitzgerald wouldn’t give a straight answer.
“No it has nothing to do with [early enrollment or gray-shirting], it just gives us an opportunity to do that,” Fitzgerald said. “You confused? That’s code for ‘none of your business.’ In all honesty, it’s just some opportunities that we have open to us now that we didn’t have in the past. We’ll see how it works out.”
- Another policy Fitzgerald spoke on is his stance on players that committed to Northwestern that want to take a visit at another school.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to do what’s right for Northwestern, period. That’s what I’m here to do. We’re going to do what’s right for our program. We’re going to protect our program. We’re going to protect with doing things the right way with great integrity and honesty. If we don’t get it in return, we’re going to move on to the next kid… That’s at the core of what we’re going to do… I don’t have a policy to hand you,” Fitzgerald said.
- Throughout the press conference, Fitzgerald constantly remarked about how the internet has changed recruiting. For example, he used a phrase such as “triple hashtag” while expressing that his program doesn’t want to become too involved in social media. Some of his concerns about this new age in recruiting deal with how recruits perceive themselves based on the media attention.
“I’m very concerned about the inflation of ego,” Fitzgerald said. “I think that that’s something families have to be very careful and conscious of. This will be the hardest transition any young man goes through in his life.
“This is hard. This is the first time leaving the nest, the first time really being out on your own, the first time making a big decision, getting away from your entire support network, playing a game that you love but for the first time actually playing against competition that is as good if not better. How are you going to handle all those types of things?... That’s the reality… Now these guys are getting so much hype on their shoulders, I don’t know how they can be as successful as the hype. As a 17- or 18-year-old, that’s a huge challenge”