Football: Northwestern adds two players, finalizes 2018 recruiting class


Daily file photo by Lauren Duquette

Pat Fitzgerald wanders the sidelines. Fitzgerald and Northwestern signed 18 scholarship players in the class of 2018.

Joseph Wilkinson and Ben Pope


Northwestern filled out its recruiting class of 2018 on Wednesday, signing two more players to scholarship and bringing the class total to 18 scholarship players and two preferred walk-ons.

Of the scholarship players, 16 of the 18 signed in December during the early-signing period. The only two new signees are offensive lineman Sam Stovall and defensive back A.J. Hampton. Both were previously unofficially committed to other schools — Stovall to Western Kentucky and Hampton to Toledo — before flipping to sign with the Wildcats.

“Kids will say, ‘I’m committed to a school,’ but when you talk to them they’re not,” Fitzgerald said Wednesday. “We’re going to ask a kid a direct question, and if he’s not committed, he’s not committed.”

Four-star defensive end Devin O’Rourke, one of the top high school players in the state of Illinois, is the headliner of the overall group.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald had high praise for O’Rourke when asked about NU’s 2018 crown jewel recruit in December.

“(He’s) long, really athletic, can run,” Fitzgerald said then. “Very rarely had one-on-one matchups throughout his (high school) career, especially later in his career where he was getting double- and triple-teamed. (I’m) just looking forward to getting him in to come in and compete because I think his upside is so huge.”

O’Rourke, however, is the exception to the rule for the Cats. The defensive end is the only four-star recruit according to 247Sports and Rivals. ESPN lists guard Wyatt Blake, quarterback Jason Whittaker and linebacker Khalid Jones as four-stars as well.

The names of running back Drake Anderson and superback Brian Kaiser, both the sons of former players, will also be familiar.

The Early Signing Period debuted this year, representing the first change to a recruiting system that Fitzgerald called “antiquated.” The coach told the Chicago Tribune in December he hopes the NCAA will eventually migrate to a system where recruits can officially sign letters of intent to their chosen school within days of receiving a scholarship offer.

For now, Fitzgerald seemed pleased with the relatively less revolutionary adjustment.

“I like the fact that those guys could end their process and be done on (December) 20th,” he said. “I also like the fact that it gave me a chance to evaluate big picture some things and where I wanted to add some things, and maybe it was at (defensive back) getting a little more depth.”

In addition to Hampton, NU was also in the running for sought-after cornerback D.J. Brown until the last minute, but Brown committed to Notre Dame over the Cats and California on Wednesday.

Fitzgerald also mentioned that five recruits — Jones, running back Isaiah Bowser, cornerback Greg Newsome, safety Jeremiah McDonald and defensive end Andrew Leota — have already enrolled at NU and have begun working out with the team.

While outside services did not rank the Cats’ class highly, Fitzgerald noted that NU’s high academic standards limit the pool of players he is able to recruit and said he pays little attention to the third-party recruit ranking systems.

“A lot of those recruiting things are beauty contests, and I don’t get caught up in it,” the coach said in December. “I get caught up in getting the right fit.”

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