Northwestern underclassmen have plenty to look forward to in the coming years, including a new University Commons to replace Norris and a basketball team poised to become an annual contender in March Madness. However, what has gone largely under the radar is the football team’s 2018 recruiting class.
Earlier this year, the Wildcats’ recruiting class was ranked third in the nation. As of now, NU has the eighth best 2018 class according to 247 Sports. Eighth. That’s better than the likes of Big Ten rivals (or, more accurately, superiors) Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nebraska. The ‘Cats currently boast 13 commits, tied for second most in the nation. Granted, 12 of those commits are three-star recruits, and as more high-profile recruits choose their schools, Northwestern is likely to fall in the rankings. However, it is nonetheless an impressive accomplishment and a testament to the magic of Pat Fitzgerald, which should convince Wildcat fans that the future is bright. If Fitz and his crew keep this up, maybe opposing teams’ fans won’t outnumber ours at NU's own home games anymore.
The key to this success has been the program’s emphasis on home-grown talent. Of the 13 commits, six hail from the Land of Lincoln (and interestingly, four of the remaining seven hail from Texas, where Fitz has been recruiting for the past several years). Recruiting close to home has been a focus of Fitzgerald’s, and it has paid off: Northwestern now appears to have surpassed the University of Illinois as the go-to school for Illinois recruits.
Without further ado, I present to you some highlights of arguably the best Northwestern recruiting class to date:
Devin O’Rourke: Leading the way is the defensive end and Frankfort, Illinois native. O’Rourke is a 6’6”, 240-pound menace who is the No. 1 recruit in Illinois and No. 8 strong-side defensive end recruit nationally. O’Rourke was the Illinois high school football defensive player of the year last season as he accrued 75 tackles (43 solo), eight sacks, a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal. He is the only consensus four-star recruit currently committed to NU.
Jason Whittaker: The ‘Cats’ only quarterback in the 2018 class, Whittaker was also the first commit. Standing at 6’4” and weighing 197 pounds, Whittaker is the No. 9 recruit in Michigan and the No. 17 pro-style QB nationally. A high three-star recruit, Whittaker has thoroughly impressed coaches during NU’s spring practice thus far with his improved arm strength. However, according to Land of Ten, there are rumors that Michigan is going to offer Whittaker despite his verbal commitment to the Wildcats.
Jeremiah McDonald: Though most scouting services list McDonald as a three-star, Bleacher Report has McDonald as a four-star and the No. 36 safety in the country. In his senior season in Slidell, Louisiana, McDonald recorded 51 tackles and six interceptions. At 6’3” and 187 pounds with 4.62 40-yard dash time, McDonald should be a great addition to the secondary.
Wyatt Blake: Another in-state commit from Crystal Park, 247Sports ranks the offensive lineman as the No. 5 recruit in the state. Prior to last season, Blake cut his weight from 308 to 285 pounds, which vastly improved his game. Blake chose NU over Minnesota, Missouri and Virginia.
Greg Newsome: Hailing from the same high school as Justin Jackson, the 6’1”, 170-pound defensive back picked the Wildcats over Iowa. In addition to two interceptions on defense, Newsome had four touchdowns as a wide receiver. Newsome won the defensive back MVP award at a recent Chicago Nike Open event for top recruits.
In the coming months, Fitzgerald hopes to use these recruits to convince more high-profile players to Northwestern and build upon this great class. If these recruits pan out, don’t be surprised if Northwestern is competing for a Big Ten West title in the near future.