Football: Northwestern welcomes 21 recruits for largest class in history

Rohan Nadkarni

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Although spring practice is still more than a month away, Northwestern’s football future became brighter on Wednesday with the introduction of the class of 2016.

The recruiting class of 21 players, the largest in Wildcats history, contains 10 offensive players, 10 defensive players and a long snapper. Under Armour All-American Ifeadi Odenigbo headlines the class along with USC transfer Kyle Prater.

Prater was an All-American coming out of high school and played one injury-marred season at USC. The chase for Prater was a unique one for coach Pat Fitzgerald, as the wide receiver contacted NU after getting a release from his USC scholarship.

“The transition is always a difficult one,” Fitzgerald said. “Are we excited? Yeah.”

The receiver will be eligible to play in 2013, and Fitzgerald would not comment on Prater’s chances of earning a waiver to play this year. Prater was met with much fanfare when he decided to join NU.

“We’re excited to add Kyle to this class and this football program,” Fitzgerald said. “But it would be unfair to put any unrealistic expectations on not only Kyle, but anybody.”

Odenigbo committed last month. A defensive lineman in high school, Fitzgerald expects the six-foot-three-inch, 217-pound Ohio native to play outside linebacker for the Cats. In his last two years in high school, Odenigbo recorded 140 tackles and 19 sacks.

According to Rivals.com, the Cats’ class ranks ninth in the Big Ten. However, the idea of class rankings and recruit star ratings was met with disdain by Fitzgerald.

“The Persa class, Ebert and all those guys,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t know if any of you experts were excited about them, but they turned out to be all right.”

Four of the signees came from the state of Illinois. Fitzgerald said the first focus of the team is to recruit the Chicago area. One of those recruits was Malin Jones, who graduated from Joliet Catholic in Naperville.

Jones averaged 9.0 yards per carry in high school, and set numerous records. The six-foot, 205-pound running back also excelled at safety and linebacker, but Fitzgerald said Jones will “absolutely be a running back.”

Jones committed to the Cats 15 months ago, and Fitzgerald joked he has known the running back for as long as he’s known his youngest son, Brendan.

Another recruit drumming up high expectations is defensive tackle Greg Kuhar. Kuhar, whose brother Ben wrestles at NU, recorded 24 sacks in his senior year.

This year’s class will also add four defensive backs to a secondary that struggled for much of the past season. The loss of players such as Brian Peters and Jeravin Matthews will be replenished by safeties Terrance Brown, Traveon Henry and Joseph Jones, and cornerback Dwight White.

In addition to Kuhar on the defensive line, the Cats will add Dean Lowry, a tall, athletic defensive end, and Connor Mahoney, a six-foot-four-inch, 260-pound defensive tackle. Rounding out the defensive recruits are outside linebackers Jaylen Prater and Eric Wilson.

On the offensive side of the ball, NU continued its love affair with superbacks by adding Jack Schwaba and Dan Vitale, who both played tight end in high school.

The Cats added four offensive lineman aside from long snapper Chris Fitzpatrick; Eric Olson, Ian Park, Kenton Playko and Adam DePietro. The four recruits each weigh at least 270 pounds, adding some bulk to the offensive line.

Stephen Buckley, Mike McHugh and Andrew Scanlan will also join on the offensive side of the ball.

Buckley was an option quarterback in high school who ran for 25 touchdowns and threw for eight his senior year. However, Buckley will play running back at NU.

McHugh and Scanlan are both six-foot-two-inch receivers. McHugh is the more heralded of the two and runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. Scanlan is one of five recruits from Pennsylvania.

With these 21 players, the recruiting class is the most decorated group of players to commit to NU in one year. However, when pressed to praise what one reporter referred to as the fifth-best recruiting class in the conference, Fitzgerald reminded everyone how little the rankings mean to him, referencing the 1995 season when he himself played for NU.

“Wow. It’s awesome. It’s great,” Fitzgerald said sarcastically about the class rank. “We went to the Rose Bowl with the worst recruiting class in the Big Ten.”

rohannadkarni2015@u.northwestern.edu

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