Reaping his rewards
Fitzgerald happy, but admits being worn out by travels
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was a traveling man in January. He and his assistants bounced from California to Florida checking on their recruits during the month.
Worn out by traveling when Wednesday's national signing day finally arrived, Fitzgerald stated during his news conference to announce the program's new class that he wished the NCAA would move forward the signing period. While some coaches have the luxury of traveling little to make sure their commitments are still secure as new staffs try to swoop in and steal players, Fitzgerald had 17 players in 10 states to keep tabs on.
"I believe we should have an early signing day," Fitzgerald said. "I believe it should be the same time as when the junior college signing day is in December. Twelve of our 17 recruits were committed verbally before that day. It sure would have saved our university a lot of money.
"It would have saved us a lot miles going babysitting kids, so to speak, in the month of January when there's coaching changes. It's amazing how many of our committed players got phone calls."
The Wildcats' class is one of the country's most diverse. Of the 17 commits, only one -- Loyola defensive end Chance Carter -- comes from Illinois. Six in total are from the Midwest. Two high school teammates -- quarterback Trevor Siemian and wide receiver Rashad Lawrence -- are from Orlando, Fla.
Florida and Ohio tied for the most recruits with three each. California, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas are all also represented.
"I think we've set a record for logging miles in these 10 states," Fitzgerald said.
Siemian and 6-foot-6, 280-pound offensive lineman Paul Jorgenson, who is from Michigan, are Northwestern's highest-rated recruits, according to Scouts Inc. Both have scores of 79. All together, 10 Northwestern recruits were given three stars by Scouts Inc.
Northwestern landed two quarterbacks in the class. Kain Colter, who is from Colorado, is more of a dual-threat quarterback. Colter, who originally committed to Stanford, compiled 907 passing yards, 978 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns after missing eight games due to a injury his senior season. Siemian is more of a pocket passer. He was 195-of-291 for 2,494 yards and 24 touchdowns during his senior season.
"Both young men are very dynamic, very accurate throwers, very dynamic leaders, and two guys I'm excited about at the quarterback position," Fitzgerald said.
Northwestern went after just one running back. Adonis Smith, who is 5-11 and 185 pounds, was originally committed to Washington State, but decided in January to switch to Northwestern. He ran for 1,534 yards and 15 touchdowns this past season in Oakland, Calif.
"We didn't have a huge need for running back because we weren't losing anyone to graduation," Northwestern recruiting coordinator Adam Cushing said. "We felt like we had a great spot where we could evaluate and take a running back that we really felt was a special player, and that's what he is. If we didn't get him, I don't know if we would have had one at all. He's that good.
"It's hard to compare him to anybody. He's smooth. He's one of those smooth guys who never gets hit head on. He's elusive and deceptive elusive."
Carter, who grew up in Evanston, also has the potential of being a big-time player for the Wildcats. He was originally leaning toward Notre Dame until Charlie Weis sought to move him inside to a defensive tackle. Carter was the key ingredient on Loyola's defense, which was arguably the best in Illinois this past season.
"I see a tremendous upside," Fitzgerald said. "A young man, as I said, [who] was one of the top rated under-16 basketball players in the country. He's just continually evolving as a football player. We're really excited about him."
Venric Mark, a 5-8, 170-pound receiver from Texas, was the most impressive on film. Mark, who has been clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40, was running at a whole different speed than his opponents in the highlight DVD that Northwestern showed during the press conference. With that speed, Mark returned four punt/kickoff returns for touchdowns his senior season.
"I think he's extremely explosive as an athlete," Fitzgerald said.
Northwestern also signed linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo, defensive back C.J. Bryant, defensive back Ibraheim Campbell, linebacker Collin Ellis, wide receiver Jimmy Hall, defensive lineman Will Hampton, defensive back Daniel Jones, wide receiver Tony Jones, defensive lineman Sean McEvilly and offensive lineman Brandon Vitabile.
Fitzgerald credited Northwestern's recent success on the field to helping in the program's recruiting.
"I think young men want to play for a winner," Fitzgerald said. "Seventeen wins over the last two seasons I think proves we're embarking on becoming a consistent winner."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.