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National Signing Day: Northwestern brings in highest-ranked class of the Fitzgerald era

Even after two disappointing seasons, 20 new ‘Cats are about to call Evanston home.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Northwestern at Iowa

On Wednesday, 19 Wildcats committed for the Class of 2023 by officially signing their national letters of intent to become members of the Northwestern football program. Although the ‘Cats lost two four-stars during the recruiting process, this recruiting class is the highest-ranked group since Pat Fitzgerald took over the program. In a press conference, Fitz said that “we’ve recruited an outstanding class that fits a lot of our needs.” With all 19 players signed, in which Fitz called it a “drama-free day,” let’s meet the newest Wildcats.

Nigel Glover

The four-star linebacker joins the program after playing for Northmont High School in Clayton, Ohio. Glover is the 22nd-best linebacker in the Class of 2023 and the ninth-best overall player in his state, according to 24/7. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound linebacker had multiple Power Five offers, including from Big Ten West rivals Iowa, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota.

Glover flies to the ball and sticks his nose in the run game, but also can cover the pass. He spent his senior year in the secondary but occasionally came off the edge on a blitz. Because Northwestern linebackers frequently struggled in pass coverage last season, Glover may be on the field earlier than expected. The four-star definitely needs to bulk up to be a Big Ten linebacker, but Northwestern fans should get excited about his potential.

Jordan Knox

The three-star interior offensive lineman stays in purple and white, as he comes to Evanston after playing for Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Knox is the 30th-best interior offensive lineman in the nation and the sixth-best recruit in South Carolina. Knox is incredibly athletic, as he also competed in track and field where he threw 49 feet, 8 inches in shotput and 145 feet, 2 inches in discus.

The three-star excels in pulling and finishing the opponent to the ground, but can also climb to the second level effectively. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound lineman enters an offensive line room that lost four opening day starters, leaving plenty of room for the incoming freshman to show why he was recruited so highly. With Coach Anderson’s development, it wouldn’t be shocking to hear his name called on draft day in a few years.

Dylan Senda

The three-star Interior offensive lineman crosses Lake Michigan as he makes his way from Divine Child High School in Dearborn, Michigan to Evanston. Senda is the 36th-ranked IOL in the nation and the 12th-best player in Michigan. Senda had multiple Power Five offers, including from Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound lineman can play guard or center at the college level as he is very efficient in getting his hands on defensive linemen when down-blocking.

Senda is incredible in driving his feet and pummeling his opponent into the ground, but he definitely needs to work on his athleticism and his ability to pull. As Senda moves inside, being able to pull and get to the second level becomes imperative, but as soon as the three-star gets his hands on he finishes his blocks with authority. Watching his tape, it looks like he is a grown man against boys in the trenches. The Michigander seems very excited to be a Wildcat, constantly posting on social media and enrolling in Northwestern for the winter quarter. If Senda continues to develop under the NWO, it won’t be long before he sees the field.

Dylan and his family are awesome,” Coach Fitz said. “Really excited and thankful to become his coach.”

Damon Walters

The three-star safety follows the footsteps of former Wildcat and Sky Team member Cameron Mitchell, as Walters heads an hour northwest from Bolingbrook to Evanston. Walters is the 48th-best safety in the Class of 2023 and the eighth-best overall player in the state of Illinois. Walters had multiple Big Ten offers from Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State and Wisconsin.

Walters’ athleticism is off the charts, as he can fly down the field and has an impressive vertical. Walters can lay the boom and will get in the box to stuff the run. He is a solid tackler in the open field and can take an opponent's head off when he gets a chance to hit. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound safety also has a knack for finding the football in the air and is solid in coverage. What I love the most about Walters is his willingness to play special teams and how effective he is in kick and punt coverage. With the Sky Team losing longtime starters, it would not be surprising to see Walters on the travel roster next season.

Michael Kilbane

The three-star edge rusher heads to Evanston after leading St. Edward’s High School in Lakewood, Ohio to a state championship, in which Kilbane had five sacks. Kilbane is ranked 53rd among all pass rushers, is the 18th-ranked player in Ohio and was named the Ohio Co-Defensive Player of the Year by Kilbane had multiple Big Ten offers including from Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers and Wisconsin.

The Ohioan has an innate ability to get to the quarterback, as he broke the St. Edward’s sack record with 20.5 in his senior season. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound edge rusher’s mixture of both bull rushing and finesse moves keeps tackles on the edge of their toes, and he plays with a high motor until the whistle blows. In the run game, Kilbane is an effective block shedder and is very good at playing sideline to sideline. As Northwestern struggled mightily to bring QBs down in the backfield, a pass rusher of Kilbane’s skill level will have an impact instantly.

Anthony Birsa

The three-star interior offensive lineman stays in his home state as he comes to Northwestern from nearby Joliet Catholic Academy. Birsa is the 48th-best interior offensive lineman in the nation and the 12th-best overall player in Illinois. Birsa had other Big Ten offers from Indiana, Minnesota and Rutgers. Birsa is a multi-sport athlete, which is his athleticism demonstrates. He has solid fundamentals in the run game, as he can pull with good technique but can also drive his opponent off the ball when he gets his hands on them. On the other hand, Birsa will have to develop as a pass protector because his high school offense was run-heavy. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound IOL will need to bulk up as he joins an already strong class of interior linemen heading to NU, but if he continues to develop, he will compete to see the field in the near future.

Tyler Gant

The three-star defensive lineman heads north to Chicagoland from Christian Brothers College in St. Louis. Gant was ranked 70th of all defensive linemen and 17th overall in Missouri. Other Big Ten schools such as Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin offered Gant before he signed with the Wildcats.

Gant is incredible at getting to quarterbacks and forcing errant passes. He is a straight bull rusher, using his strength to overwhelm the offensive linemen, a wonderful sight as the ‘Cats need to replenish their interior defensive line. In the run game, the 6-foot-5, 280-pound D-lineman can split double teams and eat up blocks, freeing his teammates to make plays. With Northwestern losing many defensive linemen to the transfer portal, Gant will be expected to be prepared to see the field quickly, and with his raw abilities, there is a strong possibility that he will become a key factor for the NU defense.

Chico Holt

The three-star tight end will have to adjust to the cold as he comes north from Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston. Holt is the 34th-best tight end in the nation and the 110th overall best player in Texas. Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin joined the Wildcats as the Big Ten teams to offer Holt. The Texan also threw shotput during his high school tenure, where he recorded a 44 feet, 8 12 inch mark.

Holt is a solid pass-catcher and shows a unique ability to break tackles as a tight end. He has good field awareness and understanding of how to help his quarterback. In the run game, Holt is solid on down blocking and in double teams. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound TE will not be expected to be ready right away as the ‘Cats return most of their tight end room, but Holt will need to develop his ability to block defensive ends and linebackers for him to be ready for Big Ten play. He is a good pass catcher and should help Brendan Sullivan in the years to come.

Camp Magee

The three-star tight end will also have to adjust to the cold as he comes to Evanston from Edgewater High School in Orlando, Florida. Magee is right behind his new teammate Holt, as he is the 36th-best tight end in the class and the 116th-best player in the state of Florida. Magee had offers from other Big Ten schools Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers before signing with the ‘Cats. Magee spent his senior year as an outside receiver, where he was a good jump-ball threat and vertical passing asset. However, as he moves inside to tight end, he will need to develop as a run blocker if he wants to see the field. The 6-foot-5 tight end could help the ‘Cats stretch the field, a part of the offense that was non-existent in the 2022 season, and give Brendan Sullivan a security blanket for the future.

Ricky Ahumaraeze

The three-star wide receiver joins the ‘Cats’ receiver room from Liberty High School in Liberty, Missouri. Ahumaraeze is the 117th-ranked wideout in the Class of 2023 and the 20th-ranked player in Missouri. The three-star garnered another Big Ten offer from Iowa before committing to Northwestern. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound receiver is great at making catches across the middle before breaking away from tackles. He goes up and gets the ball at the highest point and is good at releasing off the line of scrimmage on vertical routes. While his vertical route-running is good, he will need to continue to develop his route tree. As there is not much tape available, his blocking ability is still up in the air. With Northwestern’s receiving room losing some key pieces, Ahumaraeze will have a chance to step up immediately and make a significant impact.

Frank Convey

The three-star athlete, who made the switch from quarterback to wide receiver, will not have to travel far to his new home, as he played his high school career at Prospect High School in Mount Prospect. Convey is the 45th-ranked athlete in the nation and the 15th-ranked player in Illinois. The Fighting Illini also offered Convey, but he signed with the ‘Cats instead. The three-star is spectacular at forcing missed tackles, using a combination of jukes and power moves to throw defenders off him before turning on the burners and sprinting to the end zone. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound receiver is able to go up and get the football or run right by defenders. While he is a good vertical threat, Convey will need to continue to grow his route tree and become a better stalk blocker. His skills would also be helpful in the return game, an area Northwestern desperately needs to improve in.

Justin Cryer

Hailing from Royal High School in Brookshire, Texas, the three-star linebacker will be a long way from home when he arrives on Sheridan Road. Cryer ranked 96th of all linebackers in the class and was the 172nd-best player in Texas. Cryer had multiple Power Five offers, but Northwestern was the only team in the Big Ten to offer the Texan. Cryer plays very instinctually, constantly finding the football and finding holes in offensive schemes. He hits hard but ensures he secures the tackle first. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound linebacker can play sideline to sideline and has noticeable speed, something that the ‘Cats’ linebacker room could definitely use. He also can cover in the passing game, another thing Northwestern linebackers an improve on. If he is developed properly, there is no reason Cryer can not be a starter for the purple and white in a few years.

Dylan Roberts

The three-star defensive lineman will have to adjust to the frigid temperatures of the Midwest as Roberts played for Centennial High School in Peoria, Arizona. Roberts is the 118th-ranked defensive lineman in the class but is the 16th-ranked player in his state. Roberts had multiple Pac-12 offers but decided to head east to Evanston. Roberts can get after the quarterback using both bull-rushes and finesse moves. The 6-foot-3, 285-pound lineman can shed blockers in the run game and is fundamentally sound on the defensive line. He definitely can improve in disrupting the path of pullers, but overall there is so much to like about the three-star’s game. As Fitz said on Wednesday, NU feels very good about its incoming class of defensive linemen, and it should surprise no one if they see the field in their first year.

Alexander Doost

The three-star interior offensive lineman will now be teammates with his former opponent Roberts, coming to Evanston from Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, Arizona. Doost is the 81st-best IOL in the nation and the 17th-best player in Arizona. Northwestern was not the only Big Ten school to offer Doost, as both Indiana and Michigan State offered the 6-foot-6, 295-pound offensive lineman. Doost is strong in pass protection with solid fundamentals and can climb to the second level or down-block effectively. Using his tremendous athleticism, he also makes pulling look fluid. Northwestern has always been a trench-based team, and Doost rounds out a very solid offensive line class heading to Ryan Field.

Aidan Gray

If the Northwestern QB room couldn’t be more chaotic, the three-star quarterback will be staying in Chicagoland as he makes the short drive north from Naperville North High School in Naperville, Illinois. Gray is the 56th-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2023 and the 24th-ranked player in Illinois. NU was the only Power Five offer Gray received, according to 24/7. Gray has a cannon of an arm, and his escapability from the pocket and improvisation skills turn negative plays into positive plays. While Gray possesses great raw skills, it is imperative that he be developed in the correct way to see the field. Can Mike Bajakian do that? Skepticism is warranted, but only time will tell if the 6-foot-3, 200-pound signall-caller is the ‘Cats’ answer they have been looking for.

Joshua Fussell

The three-star cornerback joins the Sky Team after playing for Lakota West High School in West Chester, Ohio. Fussell is the 110th-ranked corner in the Class of 2023 and the 34th-ranked player in Ohio. Both Indiana and Minnesota offered Fussell, but he decided to join Ryan Smith’s DB room. The three-star is very good at getting his hands on receivers in press coverage, but can also run in phase down the field. The 6-foot, 180-pound corner can track the ball in the air well but has room for improvement in flipping his hips, especially on double moves. His recovery speed is impressive, as well as his ability to avoid stalk blocks. With the right development by Coach Smith, Fussell could develop into a solid Big Ten corner.

Cole Shivers

Shivers may have some shivers when he gets to Northwestern, as the weather will be much different than Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. Shivers was ranked 125th of all corners in the Class of 2023 and was ranked 20th of all players in Arizona. The Badgers were the only other Big Ten squad to offer Shivers.

Shivers has solid fundamentals in coverage, staying in phase with his receiver and under control when flipping his hips. He is also not afraid to stick his nose in the run game and lay a big hit. Shivers is not shy to tell a receiver that he has locked them up, and his swagger after he makes a play is unmatched. The 5-foot-ten, 165-pound corner plays bigger than he is, as his vertical allows him to compete for jump balls. With the proper development, Shivers will be a problem for opposing Big Ten quarterbacks.

Jacob Lewis

The three-star safety is heading across the country as Lewis played for Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, California. Lewis is the 124th-ranked safety in the Class of 2023 and the 130th-best player in California. Although he had numerous Power Five offers, the Wildcats were the only Big Ten team to offer Lewis. He is a battering ram in the run game, flying downhill from the middle of the field to take down the ball carrier. The 6-foot, 185-pounder is fundamentally sound in coverage, reading the quarterback well, but he is also able to flip his hips and cover receivers. In addition to his defensive skills, the Californian is a threat in the return game, making him more valuable to the Wildcats. Lewis will continue to develop but will be a perfect fit in the smashmouth run game that dominates the Big Ten.

Caleb Komolafe

The three-star running back will have to gear up as he moves to Evanston from Tompkins High School in Katy, Texas. Komolafe was the 244th-ranked player in his state. The Wildcats were the only Big Ten team to offer the Texan, but he had other Power Five offers. Komolafe can straight fly, running an 11.39 second 100-meter dash as a sophomore. The three-star has good vision and finds the open hole, and is nearly impossible to catch in the open field. The five-foot-eleven, 195-pound back runs through tackles and continues to drive his legs. As there is limited tape, his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield remains to be seen. Komolafe has a high ceiling, and with proper development, will be a contributing factor for Northwestern.

Jack Fitzgerald

Well, we all saw this one coming. The Fitzgerald legacy at Northwestern remains strong as Coach Fitzgerald’s son Jack will join his dad in Evanston after playing at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois. He will play tight end for the ‘Cats.

“If he wants to play, it’s going to probably have to be twice as hard,” Coach Fitz said. “He better get his rear end to work.”