Football: Northwestern hitting jackpot on recruiting trail

John Paschall, Reporter

While most big-time programs have to wait until National Signing Day to see how their new classes shape up, Northwestern does its heavy recruiting early on in the process. The dividends of signing classes early are paying off as coach Pat Fitzgerald’s classes have produced more talented players than the previous year. But since taking over as coach in 2006, Fitzgerald has never seen recruiting success in terms of rankings this great in Evanston.

Lawrence Free State High School defensive Fred Wyatt (Lawrence, Kan.) gave a verbal commitment Tuesday to Fitzgerald and the Cats, becoming the 11th member of the 2014 class. Wyatt joins Avon Lake High School defensive tackle Ben Oxley (Avon, Ohio), Bergen Catholic High School linebacker Cameron Queiro (Oradell, N.J.) and Klein Collins High School safety Jordan Thomas (Klein, Texas) as the only defensive members so far in the 2014 class.

The offensive side of the ball for the 2014 class is loaded with playmakers. For the second consecutive year, NU received a commitment from a highly-rated quarterback in Illinois when Wheaton North High School’s Clayton Thorson (Wheaton, Ill.) chose NU over Penn State, Illinois, and Iowa. Glenbard North High School running back Justin Jackson (Carol Stream, Ill.) and Galion High School athlete Dareian Watkins (Galion, Ohio) are both four star-rated players and should prove to be dangerous weapons for Thorson in the future. Gaithersburg High School athlete Solomon Vault (Gaithersburg, Md.) does not have a specific position lined up yet but could see most of his time in the slot as a wide receiver.

The other impressive aspect of the 2014 class so far is whom NU beat to get some of these recruits. Plano West Senior High School running back Auston Anderson (Plano, Texas) had arguably the most impressive list of offers of any recruit to commit to the Cats so far. The Lone Star state native turned down in-state offers from Texas, TCU and Rice as well as out-of-state offers from Stanford, UCLA and Nebraska so he could take his talents to Evanston. Grand Rapids Christian High School offensive lineman Tommy Doles (Grand Rapids, Mich.) turned down a Michigan offer just so he could play football at Ryan Field and get an education at NU. Jacksonville High School offensive lineman Blake Hance (Jacksonville, Ill.) received offers from such schools as Missouri, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt but turned down all those SEC schools because he felt a strong connection with NU’s football program.

After Wyatt’s commitment, the 2014 class projects to have about four to five spots available.