Football: Fitz unveils balanced class of 2013

Matt Forman

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Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has known for more than two months who would be joining the Wildcats’ football family.

On Wednesday, he got the word out.

One of many coaches to introduce his recruiting class on National Signing Day, Fitzgerald announced his 18-member signing class of 2013, which he called “one of the best in school history.”

“We feel like we filled our needs from a speed, size and toughness standpoint,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re very excited about this class.”

It was also one of the most balanced in school history, featuring nine defensive players, eight offensive players and one special teams player. Fitzgerald’s third recruiting class included four linebackers, three defensive and offensive linemen, two running backs, two safeties, one quarterback, superback and wide receiver, and one kicker.

As highlight-reel clips were displayed on a projector, Fitzgerald provided a voiceover analysis of each player, describing their attributes and skill sets.

Five of the incoming freshmen hail from the Chicago area, and four live in Ohio, part of a class that includes player from 10 different states.

“We start and end our recruiting here in Chicagoland,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep the young men in Chicago that fit Northwestern football here at home… It’s a high priority to us.”

While Fitzgerald would not say when he expects the new players to contribute, all but two players in last year’s class redshirted.

Still, Fitzgerald has one clear expectation of his players.

“Their No. 1 job… is to get in the best shape of their life,” he said.

IN THE BACKFIELD

With the graduation of quarterback C.J. Bachér and running backs Tyrell Sutton and Omar Conteh, NU had holes to fill at key skill positions.

To fill the void behind center, the Cats signed 6-foot-6 Evan Watkins, one of the top-ranked pro-style quarterbacks in the nation, from Glenbard North in Carol Stream, Ill.

While Watkins has been evaluated as a drop-back passer, Fitzgerald expects him to be a dual-threat quarterback. Watkins threw for 3,500 yards and 36 touchdowns while compiling 750 rushing yards and 15 scores over the last two seasons.

“I think Evan’s going to have a chance to compete,” Fitzgerald said of what he expects for next season. “Quarterback position is tough. But he’ll be taught well by Mick McCall and he’ll be prepared.”

At running back, NU signed two players with a significant football background who can run. Mike Trumpy of Wheaton North in Wheaton, Ill., ran a 10.7-second 100-meter dash at summer camp in Evanston last year. Trumpy’s uncle was a four-time All-Pro with the Cincinnati Bengals as a tight end.

Arby Fields, a 5-foot-10 player from California, will join Trumpy in the backfield. Fields has two relatives that played Pac-10 football and was timed with a sub-4.4 40-yard dash time.

“Mike and Arby have a little different skill sets and different strengths,” Fitzgerald said of the running backs. “At the end of the day, both men are very tough. They’ve got great vision.”

IN THE TRENCHES

While the Cats graduate seven starters from the offense, only one – Keegan Kennedy – is an offensive lineman. Despite returning four starters up front, NU recruited heavily on the offensive line – literally. The three signees tip the scales at an average 280 pounds.

The group is highlighted by 6-foot-7 tackle Patrick Ward of Providence Catholic in Homer Glen, Ill. According to Rivals.com, Ward is the 219th-best prospect and 17th-best tackle in the country.

He is only the second four-star recruit NU has signed in school history.

“Patrick is a very athletic offensive lineman who can drop his hips on contact and finish,” Fitzgerald said.

matthewforman2007@u.northwestern.edu

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