Replacing Dan Persa, Jeremy Ebert, Al Netter and the rest of the Wildcats’ senior squad won’t be easy. Still, Coach Fitz and his staff have made significant progress towards rebuilding a roster even stronger than before with the 22-man recruiting class of 2012. Here are the five recruits from the biggest haul in school history that will be key to Northwestern’s success in the coming years.
Ifeadi Odenigbo – Outside Linebacker/Defensive End
6’2”, 213 lbs.
ESPN: 4 stars
There’s no question that Odenigbo is the jewel of the 2012 recruiting class. Ranked by ESPN as the sixth best defensive end prospect in the nation, the pass rushing expert shunned Stanford and Notre Dame – along with 17 other BCS schools that offered him scholarships – and committed to the Wildcats Jan. 7.
Odenigbo is projected to play outside linebacker for Northwestern, and while some scouts say he’s undersized, his sheer speed, explosiveness and ability to change direction in an instant is universally touted by experts. He’s deceptively strong for his size and his innate ability to rush the quarterback will help supplement the losses of defensive lineman Jack DiNardo and linebacker Bryce McNaul. He’ll relieve some of the pressure on a largely ineffective Northwestern secondary, which will only be exacerbated in 2012 by the loss of cornerback Jordan Mabin.
ESPN scouts call Odenigbo “a physical kid who displays raw strength and plays bigger” and say he’s “athletic and tough and could be a real handful at the college level.”
His name is pronounced “If-AH-dee Oh-DEN-i-bo,” and you can expect to hear it booming through Ryan Field for a long time.
Kyle Prater – Wide Receiver
6’5”, 215 lbs.
University of Southern California
ESPN: 5 stars (2010)
If Odenigbo is Northwestern’s No. 1 recruit of 2012, Kyle Prater is an incredibly close second. Prater was heralded as a five-star receiver by scouting website Rivals.com and the best overall wide receiver in the Class of 2010 in his senior year at Proviso West High School. At the time, Rivals scouts called Prater, “the type of wideout that does not have to be open to make a catch and will be a threat to score from any point on the field. He has possibly the best hands and body control of any receiver in the country.”
The Hillside, Ill. native committed to the University of Southern California, but red-shirted his freshman year due to injury, played only one game this season and caught just one pass.
Early last month, Prater announced that he would transfer from USC, claiming that both he and his family wanted him closer to home. He set his eyes on Northwestern, Illinois and Wisconsin before committing to NU during his Jan. 28 visit.
Because of NCAA transfer rules, Prater will have to sit out his first year as a Wildcat before being eligible to play in 2013 as a junior. However, Coach Fitz and the brightest minds of Northwestern’s athletics department are attempting to obtain a waiver that will let Prater play this season.
In order to obtain this waiver, Northwestern and Prater will have to appeal his forced year of game inactivity to the NCAA, a complicated and somewhat enigmatic process. Occasionally, the NCAA issues these waivers for players who transferred because of family issues, the main factor Prater cited in his decision to leave Los Angeles. If the NCAA deems Northwestern’s appeal to be legitimate, it will waive Prater’s year away from competition and he’ll be able to play for the Wildcats in 2012.
If Prater can take the field for Northwestern this season, he will stand as the Wildcats’ most physically imposing receiver and form an impressive trio with Demetrius Fields and Christian Jones that will help shrink the void left by wide receiver Jeremy Ebert and superback Drake Dunsmore.
Whenever Prater does put on the pads for Northwestern, there’s little reason to think he won’t live up to his five-star potential.
Adam DePietro – Offensive Tackle
6’4”, 278 lbs.
ESPN: 3 stars
With remarkably solid fundamentals, swift footwork and virtual impenetrability on the line, Adam DePietro has potential to be a fixture on Northwestern’s offensive line, which loses starting left tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett next year. Called “the most fundamentally sound lineman in [Pennsylvania]” by Scout.com. DePietro, a left tackle in high school, excels at run-blocking, and his skill set makes him versatile enough to effectively run pulls and traps as well. While he may not maul through a defensive tackle, DePietro will make it nearly impossible for his opponent to get to the quarterback or running back. ESPN scouts say DePietro “possesses very good flexibility, balance and agility” and call him a “tough, nasty finisher with the physical tools necessary to make the required run blocks at the next level.” Additionally, they predict “it won't be long before he begins to see valuable playing time.”
In late June 2011, DePietro narrowed his choices down to Northwestern, Michigan State and Wisconsin. He committed to the Wildcats on June 28.
On Dec. 30, DePietro tore cartilage in his knee during the Chesapeake Bowl, a post-season all-star game, which required surgery and a 12-week recovery period. Still, he should be ready and raring to go once Northwestern begins summer practices.
DePietro is only one of the four three-star offensive line recruits that will join the Wildcats this summer – fellow Pennsylvanian offensive guards Ian Park and Connor Mahoney will join DePietro in Evanston, along with offensive tackle Kenton Playko from Ohio. With DePietro leading the pack, the Wildcats may be able to construct the Big Ten’s next great offensive line.
Ian Park – Offensive Guard
6’4”, 295 lbs.
Upper St. Clair, PA
ESPN: 3 stars
If Adam DePietro stops the rush with speed and finesse, Ian Park does it with brute strength. Park is the epitome of a run block specialist and aggressively creates holes in the defensive line with relentless pursuit, clearing paths for running backs to zip through. Park may not be the fleetest of foot, but he never leaves a block unfinished and always plays with remarkable tenacity. Scout.com calls Park “a mauling type guy that keeps a low pad level and just plows out the middle.”Still, he’s so much more than just a human bulldozer. ESPN scouts say Park “displays the flexibility, balance and agility necessary to play on his feet in space” and “is capable of handling inside quickness and does a good job getting push when down and double team blocking.” While he may need to fine-tune his skills a bit, ESPN scouts say he is all you can ask for in a guard.
Park committed to Northwestern last May, 24 hours after the Wildcats offered him a scholarship. At the time, Park was also entertaining offers from Syracuse, Maryland, West Virginia and Pittsburgh.
Park and his class of 2012 comrade DePietro have different styles, but the combination of the two on the same line might be a very powerful weapon for the Wildcats.
Jack Schwaba – Tight End
6’4”, 225 lbs.
Upper Saint Clair, PA
ESPN: 3 stars
The superback (SB) is a staple of Northwestern’s spread offense, and Jack Schwaba is looking to step up in this role. While his SB predecessor, All-Big Ten tight end Drake Dunsmore, was more prolific a receiver than a blocker, Schwaba is strongest on the line and chipping at linebackers, even with solid hands. That said, Schwaba still has a way to go before he reaches the level at which Dunsmore competed.
While Schwaba may not be the most gifted tight end recruit in the nation, he’s a tireless hustler on the gridiron that puts everything he has into each snap. ESPN scouts praise him for his “good motor,” and while “he is not a flashy or overpowering player…as a blocker he will stick his nose in there and work to get the job done.”
A high school teammate of Ian Park, Schwaba played both tight end and defensive end had offers from Rutgers, Syracuse and Temple in addition to Northwestern. He committed to the ‘Cats this past June.
Scouts say that Schwaba needs to “keep physically developing and tweaking aspects of his game” to succeed at the college level. He may not be the next Dunsmore, but if he reaches his full potential, Schwaba can become a key component of a power Wildcat offensive line and serve as a solid receiving option as well.
Explaining the system: ESPN ranks each recruit from 40-100, with 100 being the highest rating and with each number rating receiving a corresponding star value. Recruits rated between 85-100, which are the very best prospects who should dominate in college football and continue on into the NFL, receive five stars. Recruits scored between 74-84.9 are players who should succeed at the college level but may not make the pros, and they receive four stars. Three and two-star recruits are players that show moments of greatness, but are not consistent enough to dominate at the college level.
Total Commits: 22
By State: Illinois: 5, Pennsylvania: 5, Ohio: 4, Texas: 2, California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Texas: 1 each
By Position: Offensive Linemen: 5; Wide Receivers: 4; Linebackers: 3; Safeties: 3; Defensive Linemen: 2; Running Backs: 2; Tight Ends, Long Snappers, and “Athletes”: 1 each.
By Rating: Five stars: 1; Four stars: 1, Three stars: 9, Two stars: 9, One star: 1
Scout.com Class Ranking: 48th in Division 1-A, 5th in the Big Ten (9th according to Rivals)