Wildcat football came in to the 2009 season with a presumably light schedule and lofty expectations, but so far has performed subpar at best. It might be less than halfway into the year, but there’s no reason not to look ahead to the new recruits who will try to straighten the ship in 2010. And with Coach Fitz’s 2010 freshmen class, Northwestern fans should be smiling.
Paul Jorgenson – Definitely a good place to start. A coveted recruit across the Big Ten, the 6’6”, 274-pound offensive tackle is the 14th best prospect in Michigan for the class of 2010, dominating defensive ends in high school and opening up massive holes, according to recruiting Web site Rivals.com. The Michigan native has an unbelievably quick reaction time off the snap and his athleticism and leverage made him Northwestern’s #1 recruit, according to ESPN.com. He played some defensive end in high school, but he comes to the ‘Cats to play on offense. As an already massive guy with surprising athleticism and quickness, he has great potential, especially once he fills out his frame. The ‘Cats have a lot of young depth on the offensive line, but Jorgenson will compete for a starting or contributing role in his first couple years on campus.
Trevor Siemian – With Northwestern’s lack of consistency at quarterback, it’s good to see head coach Pat Fitzgerald recruiting signal callers every year. Seems like a good find, as Siemian played the spread offense in high school and has the skills Wildcat fans are looking for. At 6’2” and 180 pounds, he doesn’t seem like a prototypical quarterback, until you see his cannon for an arm and mobility to avoid taking hits. Some scouts call him a “system quarterback.” Luckily, he plays Northwestern’s system and with senior quarterback Mike Kafka graduating, the starting quarterback position will be wide open in a year or two. Current freshman quarterback Evan Watkins has the size and physical talent, but Siemian is more polished as a passer, making for an interesting competition.
Will Hampton – Hampton has to be the sleeper pick for immediate impact on the ‘Cats in 2010 after decommitting from Stanford. With only four defensive tackles returning next year, this Texan may get a chance to shine early. He is making the transition from defensive end to defensive tackle, but his run-stuffing ability makes him perfect for the job. Some scouts say he needs to bulk up, but the 6’3”, 270-pounder’s size is already comparable to that of Northwestern’s current defensive tackles. His speed and violent strength combine to make him the juggernaut of the ‘Cats’ recruits. With that size and explosiveness, he could give Northwestern’s defensive ends the push up the middle that they need to thrive.
Collin Ellis – He’s Northwestern’s ace in the hole. The 6-foot one-inch, 195-pound Ellis played wide receiver, running back, returner, linebacker, and strong safety in high school, so ESPN and Rivals.com couldn’t agree on his position. However, this flexibility is why he could be crucial down the road, as he is likely to see time at a few defensive positions. Don’t let his size fool you either, he is unbelievably quick to the ball, jumps routes with ease, and blitzes with great ferocity. With his experience on offense, he should have no problem giving quarterbacks nightmares with his hands. His brute strength will translate flawlessly to defense and will treat receivers over the middle to a bloody mouth. While he might be a little small to play linebacker in the Big Ten, Ellis’ athleticism will make him the real deal given a couple years to bulk up.
Shontrelle Johnson – A Darren Sproles clone. He is listed at 5’10”, 180, and is known for his running in space. With excellent hands and speed, he works brilliantly in the spread offense, providing the ‘Cats with a versatile back and receiver. Since there is not a guaranteed starting running back, Johnson could easily see some snaps as a change-of-pace runner to explode to the outside. His feet are his number one asset with jukes, stops, pivots, and first steps that leave defenders looking silly, and Northwestern will be glad to see that kind of athleticism. He may be one of the most explosive players the ‘Cats have ever recruited to the program. After dominating early this season against big-time Florida competition, Northwestern had better hope that powerhouses in the SEC and ACC don’t catch on to Johnson before signing day.
Tony Jones – There may be no receiver at 6′1″ that enjoys the fade route more than Mr. Jones. He loves to get in the air and make plays. He could use a little bulk, but he is very elusive with the ball and racks up the yards after the catch. His leaping ability and solid route running make him an excellent deep ball target, as he can sky over back pedaling defensive backs. He’s a big-play type of guy who will need to polish his game but could be a great target down the road. There might not be a lot of playing time for him next year on offense, but in high school he showed the speed and step to be productive early at least in the return game.
John Froland – Froland is the second defensive tackle in the class of 2010, a position that really needs some work. However, at 6’5”and 250-pounds, Froland may see more time at defensive end unless he hits the weight room. Froland definitely has the skill sets, which is a great sign, and is incredibly explosive off the line of scrimmage. His reads and angles of pursuit are also spot on, making him excellent for stopping the run. If he can put on the necessary weight, he will be one of the most explosive and quick defensive tackles in the Big Ten. Don’t be surprised if you see him at end, although fellow recruit Hampton could help push him to contend for time at DT.
Chi Chi Ariguzo – His name isn’t the only interesting thing about him. He played strong safety all throughout high school, yet Fitz is converting him into an outside linebacker. Being 6’3” and 215-pounds makes him a good fit for the position, and he is definitely physical and quick enough to contain runners and plant them into the grass. However, his main criticism is that he loves to arm tackle, which is not a good habit for linebackers. He has the physical tools to shed blocks and make tackles, but he will have to work on being more fluid in coverage. Luckily, with no graduating linebackers this year, Ariguzo will be able to sit and polish his game with a lot of competition for the position.
Rashad Lawrence – Fitz made sure to pick very different receivers in Lawrence and Jones. The 6’2”, 195-pound Lawrence is the Yin to Jones’ Yang: he is a possession receiver who excels in the intermediate passing game. He isn’t the athlete that Jones is, but he is a top-notch route runner with strong hands to make plays in traffic. There is a great set-up for the future for Lawrence, as he will probably not see a lot of playing time until his sophomore or junior year. But by then, he might be one of the crispest and most polished young receivers on the squad. With Jones hopefully drawing attention down the field, Lawrence should be able to be a consistent safety outlet. And, it can’t hurt that he played his high school ball with fellow recruit and quarterback Trevor Siemian.
Brandon Vitabile – The 6’3”, 298-pound center is 6th best at his position in the country and 8th best player in New Jersey, according to Rivals.com, and his footwork says it all. His form and technique with his hands and legs is superb, as he made defensive lineman look silly at the New Jersey combine. He also combines great leverage with his powerful lower body to get rushers off balance and throw them to the turf, without holding. Vitabile was one of Michigan State’s top targets, but luckily Northwestern has an education he prefers, making him a likely lock for Academic All-America. He’s a true center who has the body and technique to be a solid contributor.
With plenty of time for players to commit still remaining, Northwestern’s class of 2010 doesn’t appear to be complete. However, the ten names above could have a big impact in the next few seasons. According to Rivals.com, nine of the ten recruits have earned three stars, an abnormal ratio for Northwestern. And if the ‘Cats want to achieve their goal of a Big Ten Championship anytime soon, these are the right kind of guys to start with.