Commentary: 2009 Recruiting Class
by Jonathan Hodges

On national signing day 2009, the Wildcats have brought in a solid class of 18 hailing from around the nation, with 5 of those coming from the Chicago area.  While the class won't turn any heads on the national level, it is a balanced one (9 on defense, 8 on offense, 1 on special teams), and includes some highly rated players (specifically, OT Ward from nearby Homer Glen, and DE Custis from Ohio).  Coach Fitz introduced the class at noon after Northwestern received the national letters of intent earlier in the morning, finally unveiling the fruit of a long recruiting season.

The most hype will likely surround OT Ward, a much sought-after recruit (who looked heavily at the academic side and will be going into engineering), DE Custis, and two local offensive recruits: QB Watkins and RB Trumpy.  While none of these four will be likely to see the field in their true freshman seasons, they are in line for playing time soon thereafter and it will be interesting to see what Coach Fitzgerald and his coaching staff do with this new round of talent.

In terms of immediate production (2009 season), it's unlikely that many players will have a chance to break in with some playing time (this past season, only 2 true freshmen saw the field: Jeravin Matthews on special teams and Jeremy Ebert at WR) - and that's mostly due to the number of returning players for the 'Cats.  One spot that's very likely to be up for grabs, though, is either place kicker or punter, and Jeff Budzien from Hartland, WI should have a chance to compete for playing time with Demos as the only experienced kicker or punter on the 2009 squad.  The other spot that may see a true freshman is RB, where freshmen Trumpy and Fields could get in the mix with Simmons, Concannon, Schmidt, and Daniel for playing time - right now that important and high profile spot isn't locked down.

Otherwise, look for Fitz and his staff to develop and groom these players for starting spots down the line - there are quite a few talented offensive linemen on the depth chart, which is quite frankly a good problem to have - so even highly touted recruit Patrick Ward will have to earn his stripes.  This class has a good mix of positions across the board and gives NU some additional depth and the ability to continue fielding balanced and experienced teams down the line.

As many usual readers know, I put very little stock into the national recruiting rankings, "star" ratings, and the like - and as many NU fans know, these rankings carry relatively little weight when it comes time to put the pads on and play football.  Northwestern commonly ranks 50th or lower nationally in these recruiting rankings, yet has managed to crack the top 25 during multiple seasons this decade and make bowl games 4 times during that period.  The fact is that since Barnett took over the program, Northwestern has almost always overachieved relative to its recruits - showing that college football is more about getting solid talent but then developing that talent rather than just getting the guys with the most hype.  Notre Dame, with its annual top 5 recruiting classes, has fallen on very hard times, while other typical top schools, like Miami (FL) and Florida State, haven't been challenging for conference titles recently.

Congratulations are in order for this incoming group of recruits and all Northwestern fans wish them the best of luck on the field and in the classroom starting later this summer.  While they may not be on the playing field come fall, they will be preparing for their chance to shine down the road and credit Fitz with bringing in another solid group of guys that fit the school and the football program who can contribute when the time comes.

Now, only 2 months until spring practice begins.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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jhodges is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com.  His commentary and game analyses appear regularly during the season and occasionally in the offseason.