Last week, seemingly out of nowhere, the news broke that Andrew and David Dowell had de-committed from Northwestern. The two twins from Ohio, one a running back and one a defensive back, had been at the head of coach Pat Fitzgerald’s impressive class ever since they gave NU their pledges back in April.
The news, therefore, was a big setback from a fan’s perspective. In the months after the Dowells originally committed, everything had been rosy. Fitzgerald had compiled an 18-player class that didn’t appear to have too many holes. But with the Dowells gone, there are now two gaping ones.
So how can Northwestern replace them? Or rather, maybe the better question is, can NU replace them at all? This late in the recruiting cycle, it’s going to be awfully tough to find like-for-like replacements. But rather than look externally, the answer probably comes from within.
The 2015 recruiting class is still pretty darn good
First and foremost, this recruiting class is still very strong. The magnitude of this loss for Fitzgerald and NU has been exaggerated. That’s only natural, given the initial shock when the story broke, but nevertheless, the reaction has been a bit over the top.
That’s especially true in the case of Andrew Dowell. Never mind the fact that we have no idea exactly how good players will be until they actually set foot on a college field – Northwestern will be just fine at running back. Not only does NU have great depth at the position on the current roster, the Wildcats also have a commitment from three-star RB John Moten in this class. Moten is 6-foot, runs a 4.4 40, and could be a star.
Replacing David Dowell will probably be Fitzgerald’s primary concern. The class is light in the secondary, with recent commit Jacob Murray the only remaining defensive back. However, similar to the running back situation, the secondary is one of the deepest position groups on the current roster, so there’s no need to fret.
Nonetheless, Fitz will look to add to the class in what are now the areas of need. At the moment, there are three players to watch.
At running back, there is three-star Justice Shelton-Mosely, who could be the multi-purpose playmaker that NU is looking for. Shelton-Mosely’s 10-team list includes NU, Duke, Vanderbilt and Stanford.
On the defensive side, there is Isaac James, a three-star athlete who plays QB in high school, but could end up being either a wide receiver or cornerback in college. James is down to a top three of NU, Wisconsin and Indiana.
There is also three-star safety Tyson Cisrow, whom NU recently offered. Cisrow has some other strong offers though, including one from Penn State. And in addition, there’s still a strong possibility that Fitz will add at least a few more names to his list of targets.
The mindset trumps the individual
Let’s take a step back though, and look at the idea of replacing the Dowells from a broader perspective. One of the things that this story brought to the forefront once again was Fitzgerald’s recruiting policy. And it’s that policy that is representative of this whole situation.
Essentially, the policy is Fitz sending a message. That’s not all it is, but it’s a byproduct of it. The message is being sent not only to recruits, but to current players, to the whole program, and to outsiders. The message is that a single player is such a minuscule part of a football team or football program compared to the whole.
There are obvious exceptions, and every team has players that are crucial to success. But to Fitz, in the college game, individuals are devalued, as opposed to team chemistry, cohesiveness, and "buying in," which are exactly the opposite.
Therefore, Fitz fundamentally replaces the Dowells with his policy, and with the attitude it fosters within the program and the locker room. With it, he makes a sacrifice. He surrenders the talent of those two individuals, but in exchange, he believes – and this is going to sound like a cliché – that he drills home those aforementioned qualities that make a team more than the sum of it’s parts.
In the end, whether or not this is beneficial to the program can be debated. But whether the fan base likes it or not, this is how Fitz will (and will continue to) go about "replacing" players that de-commit. As far as Fitz is concerned, the Dowells were just two of 18, and would have been merely two of around 100. Thus, he can cope with not having them around.