CHICAGO — Pat Fitzgerald says that Northwestern will play "maybe more young guys maybe than we ever have" in 2015.
A significant majority of Northwestern freshmen under Fitzgerald have redshirted, but with recruiting having improved in 2013, 2014 and 2015, this year could be different.
"I really like our freshman class," Fitzgerald said. "We're going to play young guys. And I'm talking freshmen and redshirt freshmen. I like those two classes a lot. They've got a little swag."
Fitzgerald wasn't ready to say specific names with regards to which true freshmen could play, nor would he put a specific number on it, but said of the freshmen receivers:
"I like them in shorts. We don't play our game in shorts. Do I predict that a lot of those guys will be in the mix, and in the mix quickly? Based on what I've seen in shorts, absolutely. It's going to be fun to watch those guys. We've recruited well at those positions."
"I'll be interested to see when somebody punches them back, and that's going to happen here in a couple weeks," Fitzgerald said. "But I like how they look in shorts."
Fitzgerald lamented how social media has affected true freshmen, and potentially their readiness, saying:
"The first step is getting over the homesickness, and coming to summer school helps. But the bad thing is that phone. Back when I was playing, you were homesick for mom. Now your girlfriend will just not leave you alone; she's facetiming you... but you've got to give them their time, because they go through withdrawal.
We give them their iPads, and they're dialed in, but the minute we give them recess and break meetings up, they're like, ‘Oh, I've got to get my fix, what's going on on Instagram.' That's the society we live in."
Back in February, Fitzgerald explained the five step process that he uses to decide which true freshmen are ready to play.
1. Fitzgerald said that "80 percent of freshmen redshirt themselves," and in all seriousness, he thinks the number one reason for that is "that girl [from high school] that is just stuck to them... When I was in school, if I wanted to talk to Stacey [his future wife and high school sweetheart], I had to wait in line for the pay phone. And you weren't going to put your butt in front of the pay phone because all your boys would make fun of you for calling your girlfriend. Now, with this dang thing [holds up his cell phone], he can't get away from her. That's the number one reason why they redshirt."
2. Fitzgerald: "What kind of functional strength and conditioning do they have? So they can stay safe, and so they can compete. Some guys just aren't ready. Especially in the trenches."
3. Fitzgerald: "Do they pick up our system? Now with the summer time, we're able to work with them a little more, and that helps, but nobody hits back in the summer. It get's a lot different in camp when the game gets physical.
4. Fitzgerald: "Do we need them to play? I would prefer not to waste a guy's year on covering kicks and just being involved in the kicking game. Fitzgerald says if a guy is going to play over 100 scrimmage snaps, then he'll considering removing his redshirt.
5. Fitzgerald: "If we get one through four, number five is, 'do you want to play?' In my nine years, we've had no one tell me 'no.' We've had, in my time at Northwestern, one guy tell us 'no.'
Fitzgerald also thinks the two most recent classes could solve Northwestern's explosive play problem, saying that "some of the young guys that you haven't seen yet in Big Ten play have explosiveness."