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In-state Northwestern commits shine at Under Armour Chicago camp, illuminating bright future of program

Wyatt Blake and Devin O’Rourke’s performances represent the positive momentum of Northwestern recruiting.

Rob Schaefer

On Sunday morning, Glenbrook North High School hosted Chicago’s 2017 Under Armour All-America camp, where over 100 of the top high school football players in the region came out to showcase their skills with hopes of earning an invite to the 2018 Under-Armour All-America game.

Four of those invited were Northwestern commits, but only OL Wyatt Blake and DE Devin O’Rourke attended the camp. Both players performed well in basic drills and one-on-ones, but it was O’Rourke, the top player in the 2018 class, who earned an invite to the prestigious national game at the end of the afternoon.

“It’s like a dream come true,” O’Rourke said, sporting a fresh, white Under-Armour All-America cap. “I’ve always wanted to play in an All-American game, I always watched it when I was little, and I’m happy I came here and got it.”

The day began for the athletes with registration at 8:00 a.m., interviews with the media at 8:30 and practice at 10:00. The players broke up by position for some introductory drills until about 11:30, then broke out into one-on-ones with competing position groups. The players weren’t in pads, so there were no seven-on-sevens.

For Northwestern fans, the most compelling one-on-ones were between the offensive and defensive lines, where Blake and O’Rourke had the opportunity to strut their stuff. In most of the drills, the defensive line held an advantage, a trend that, early on, even Blake wasn’t able to reverse.

“I think in the beginning I was a little slow,” Blake said. “But the final five reps I took were really good; I was really happy with those.”

The more these drills progressed, the chippier things got, and as the intensity ramped up, Blake’s performance improved. After getting blown past by a defensive end in his first rep of one drill, Blake came back and buried the same defender into the turf on the very next snap. Seriously, he sat on the dude’s head. Even from the sideline, you could hear the 6-foot-3, 308 pound Blake jawing at the defensive lineman as they returned to their respective huddles after the play.

O’Rourke impressed in his reps, as well. His burst and wide frame are reminiscent of Dean Lowry, and the senior at Lincoln-Way East possesses long arms and athleticism that validate his No. 2 rank (he recently barely fell from the No. 1 spot) among all recruits in the state of Illinois. He showed those facets of his game early and often on Sunday.

Perhaps more encouraging than Blake and O’Rourke’s performances at the camp, though, is the state of Northwestern recruiting in general. Pat Fitzgerald dominated the state of Illinois this year; Northwestern’s 2018 class already has six of the top 43 recruits in the state (three in the top eight), per 247Sports, and it’s no secret that Fitz is the primary reason why.

“Coach Fitz is, in my opinion, the best college football coach there is,” O’Rourke said. “He tells it how it is. He doesn’t sit there and try to convince you and lie to you. He says the facts and if you want in, come in.”

“He’s not the type of guy who’s gonna be hitting me up every day, but he’ll call me, see how I’m doing, see how the family is doing, we just talk about the important stuff,” Blake said.

Fitzgerald’s plain-dealing and focused recruiting style has propelled Northwestern to what currently sits as 2018’s ninth-ranked class, a feat that would have been unheard of at the start of his tenure. He’s tapped into something with the multitude of home-grown products he’s gotten and it’s working.

“I decided to go to Northwestern because it just made sense,” Blake said. “There’s not a better option for me: how close it is to home, academics, coaches, just the whole upward bound of the program... It just made sense.”

The location of the school, the academics, the coaches...none of those are entirely new. But at the moment, the program’s ‘upward bound’ is unprecedented, and we can all thank Pat Fitzgerald for that.