Northwestern Football Recruiting Update: A Look Back And A Look Forward

13 months ago, we published This Post looking at Northwestern’s recruitment of 4-Star players.  With a potentially seismic 2020 recruiting class on the horizon, we wanted to revisit last year’s piece and also take a look into the near future.


We encourage you do go back and read over last year’s post to see the finer points of our analysis, but to sum things up:  After examining the stats, we realized that there are several positive indicators relative to our chances of landing the 4-star recruits Northwestern offers scholarships to.


Basically, it is almost always a good thing if a 4-star recruit :


1.Is from the state of Illinois.

2.Also holds a Notre Dame offer–PROVIDED that recruit is from the Midwest and does not attend a Catholic High School. 

3.Also holds a Stanford offer–PROVIDED that recruit is not from a warm-weather state.   


Lording over all possible scenarios is


4.The “Sweet Spot” recruit:  The unicorn who checks every box:  From the State of Illinois; Notre Dame offer/Stanford offer/Both; attends a public high school.


After we conducted our analysis, we then tried to apply it to the crop of 4-star recruits in the Class of 2019 who Northwestern was pursuing.  Let’s revisit these athletes now, juxtaposing what we said at the time with what actually happened.






CATEGORY 4: “Sweet Spot” Players


There were no “Sweet Spot” players in the 2019 class.  This is certainly not unusual.  However, it makes the 2019 class look SLIGHTLY different from the 2020 class…



CATEGORY 1: 4-Star recruits in the state of Illinois.


Trevor Keegan

What we said at the time: 

Keegan holds neither a Notre Dame offer nor a Stanford offer.  Neither, however, did Devin O’Rourke.  Northwestern’s in-state profile has never been better.  Lord knows we could use a 4-star offensive lineman!  Here’s hoping our 20% chance of landing Keegan comes up roses!




As Keegan’s recruiting progressed, it never really felt as though Northwestern was in the game.  Several monster programs came calling, and Keegan ultimately signed with the Wolverines.  As indicated above, we had projected a 20% chance of landing Keegan, so this was disappointing, but not surprising.



CATEGORY 3 :  4-star recruits with Stanford Offers who are from cold-weather states.


There was a single Category 3 player in the 2019 class, but it made more sense at the time to add him to the Category 2 list, which we will do again here




CATEGORY 2:  4-star recruits with Notre Dame offers who attend public schools in the Midwest.


Zeke Correll

What we said at the time:  Correll holds a Notre Dame offer along with his NU offer. He also hails from a city, Cincinnati, that Northwestern has recruited well.




Correll actually picked up a Stanford offer after we published our piece.  Like Keegan, this one stings because we missed out on another major recruit at a position of need.  Still, the fact that Correll signed with Notre Dame matches up nicely with our model.  A player who considers Notre Dame is often also seriously considering Northwestern.



Quinn Carroll

What we said at the time:  This kid is a major recruit teetering on 5 star status.  He holds a slew of offers, but that group includes both Northwestern and Notre Dame.  




Frankly, Carroll was a Monster get for the Irish, who put together a phenomenal offensive line class in 2019.  Notre Dame beat out most of the top programs in the country for Carroll.  Still, the fact that Notre Dame landed Carroll speaks to the exact ceiling Northwestern is trying to reach:  Carroll stayed in the Midwest and pursued a high-quality education along with top-flight football over offers from Alabama, USC, LSU, and dozens of others.  These factors are exactly why a Notre Dame offer is a positive indicator for the ‘Cats: Very often, a player from a Midwest public school with either a Notre Dame or Northwestern offer picks one of the two regardless of his other offers.  25% of the time in the past 15 years, that player has picked Northwestern.



David Bell

What we said at the time:  We’ll throw Bell on the list as well, even though he’s more of a stretch, since he hails from Indiana.




Northwestern has been understandably less successful with Category 2 players if they hail from Notre Dame’s home state of Indiana, so we had lower expectations here.  Ultimately, though, Bell picked neither the Irish nor the ‘Cats.  However, since the Boilermakers were obviously dreaming of a future Hunter Johnson/Bell combination, earning the split in this regard seems like a win for Northwestern.



Zach Harrison

What we said at the time: Harrison is the most fascinating case to examine.  He plays Defensive End, attends a public high school, hails from Ohio, and fit into either Category 2 or Category 3, holding Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Stanford offers.


In other words, Harrison looks like a better version of Ifeadi Odenigbo.  Add to that the fact that Northwestern has been recruiting defensive linemen very successfully lately, and you can start trying to talk yourself into things like “A 5-Star recruit who lives 20 miles away from the Horseshoe is going to attend a college other than Ohio State”.  Yeah…that sounds like a stretch.




All Hail the amazing psychic powers of the West Lot Pirates!  We told you that guy who could practically see The Horseshoe from his house and took roughly 500 visits to OSU would sign with the Buckeyes…and miraculously, it happened!

Yeah…geography was always working against us on this one.  We do firmly believe, however, that had Harrison not been SO close to the Ohio State campus, we would have been more in the game.  Harrison supposedly considered Penn state and Michigan, but that felt like more of a formality than anything.  He was a born Buckeye.




The sensible yet idealistic thing to do is take all 4 players in Category 2 as a group.  Stats indicate a likelihood that one of them will sign with Notre Dame/Northwestern.  If that player exists, there’s about a 1 in 4 chance that he becomes a Wildcat!




Two of the four Category 2 players did, indeed, sign with either Notre Dame or Northwestern.  According to our model (and it’s admittedly small sample size) we had a 43.8% of landing either Correll OR Carroll.  We were in the game!  We just didn’t get the win.


But there’s no time to lick our wounds! Bigger things are on the horizon!






To say that the 2020 Recruiting crop is more favorable to Northwestern than the 2019 crop is putting it EXTREMELY mildly.  There has probably never been a class more loaded with elite recruits who–based on the positive indicators we have identified–would have very solid reasons for choosing the Wildcats.


As we did last year, we’re going to break these 4-star recruits down by the four categories we have identified as most reliably turning a potential 4-star Wildcat into an actual 4-star Wildcat.  As always, we are using the prospect rating system for our analysis.


*Note:  For what it’s worth, Rivals’ highest rated THREE star recruit with a Northwestern offer, Cam Porter, has already signed with the ‘Cats.



CATEGORY 1: 4-Star recruits in the state of Illinois.


We’re not putting anyone into Category 1 right now, and there is a very good reason why.  Moving on…



CATEGORY 2:  4-star recruits with Notre Dame offers who attend public schools in the Midwest.



Makari Paige

Northwestern is absolutely in the running for Paige.  He attends West Bloomfield High School in Michigan, and though he holds Notre Dame, Michigan, and Michigan State offers, no clear front-runner has emerged yet.  Northwestern has a history of recruiting Michigan well, and more importantly, we have a strong history of recruiting big-time safeties.  Definitely keep an eye on Paige.



Zak Zinter

This is a fascinating one.  Our friend Louie Vaccher has an article up on Zinter at WildcatReport right now,  and with good reason.  Zinter holds both Notre Dame and Northwestern offers, and though he’s not from the Midwest and does not attend a public school, there are major asterisks next to both of these exceptions.


First of all, Zinter hails from Massachusetts.  The argument can honestly be made that no one is recruiting the state of Massachusetts better right now than Northwestern is.  Second, Zinter’s school may be private, but it isn’t Catholic.  It’s…what is it, exactly?  “Buckingham Browne & Nichols School…is an independent, co-educational day school in Cambridge, Massachusetts educating students from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.”  Thanks, Wikipedia.  If we need any more details about BB&N, we could ask former Wildcat tackle Eric Olsen, who also attended the school.


The bottom line is that Northwestern has a real “in” here, at least as much as Notre Dame does.  Zinter presents a major opportunity for Northwestern to land an impact offensive tackle.



Michael Drennan II


The main problem for NU relative to Drennen II is that recruiting one of the Top 5 All-Purpose Backs in the nation takes serious, serious effort.  Drennen II is from Ohio, and we would be going up against both OSU and Notre Dame, among many others, for his services.  This, however, isn’t the problem.


The problem is this:  Drennen II may be one of the top-5 APBs in the nation…but he ISN’T the highest rated APB Northwestern is chasing.  There is another massive fish in these waters for the ‘Cats, and NU is going to be devoting so much effort to landing that player that it’s going to be extremely hard to target another high-caliber player at the same position.  More on this in a bit.



Jay Hardy


This one is a bit of a stretch, though not impossible.  Hardy is from Tennessee, which is more South than Midwest.  He’s also a monster DE recruit with a slew of offers including Alabama and LSU.  Furthermore, though Hardy’s high school isn’t Catholic, it is private.


Still, Hardy qualifies as a fringe candidate for both Category 2 AND Category 3, holding offers from both Notre Dame and Stanford.  In other words, if Northwestern is talking, Hardy’s family is listening.  We’ll see if NU gets in the game here at a position we are recruiting fantastically right now.



CATEGORY 3 :  4-star recruits with Stanford Offers who are from cold-weather states.



Ayden Hector

Hector is weird case to consider relative to Category 3, one that our model hasn’t had to deal with yet.  Yes, he has both Northwestern and Stanford offers, and yes, he’s from a cold-weather state.  The problem is, that cold weather state is Washington.  So we can assume that the Cardinal have a big advantage geographically on this one.  Still, though Hector holds offers from pretty much the entire Pac-12, no one seems to have a clue which way he’s leaning yet.  We’ll see if any future list-trimming vaults NU into contention here.



Lukas Ungar


Remember the last time Northwestern went head-to-head with Stanford for a 4-star Superback in the state of New Jersey?  Allow us to remind you.


Rivals seems to feel that Ungar is leaning Stanford, but remember, Northwestern beats Stanford 50% of the time on cold-weather recruits.  If anything, the worrisome opponent here is Penn State, where Ungar has already taken several visits.



Kalel Mullings

We have a good feeling on this one.


Mullings would have been a fringe Category 2 guy thanks to his ND offer and non-Catholic high school.  He’s a blue-chip Category 3 guy:  He has a Stanford offer, and he hails from the EXTREMELY fertile Wildcat recruiting ground of Massachusetts.


Let’s put it this way.  Mullings is the best linebacker from his state in the class of 2020.  The best linebackers from the state of Massachusetts in the 2017 and 2019 classes play for Northwestern now.  Northwestern’s biggest rival for Mullings’ services may actually be Boston College.  We’ll see if we have a bit more success with ol’ Kalel than this guy did.



CATEGORY 4: “Sweet Spot” Players



Ah, the Sweet Spot.   The dream set of characteristics that have historically given Northwestern at least a 50% chance of landing a 4-star recruit.


There are many recruiting classes in which Northwestern doesn’t have the opportunity to target a single 4-star public school recruit from the state of Illinois who also holds a Notre Dame offer, a Stanford offer, or both.





Peter Skoronski

Skoronski has probably been the least-discussed of the three Sweet Spot recruits, but he just may be the one with the greatest chance of picking Northwestern.


For starters, Skoronski plays in Northwestern’s backyard:  Maine South High School in Park Ridge.  Second, Skoronski would not be the first 4-star recruit from Maine South to sign with the ‘Cats.  Third, Skoronski’s offer list looks like a classic Northwestern recruiting battle:  Notre Dame, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa.  We can handle this.  The fight for Skoronski’s services will be the first major recruiting test for new OL Coach Kurt Anderson.



Rylie Mills

The first of two monster recruits whom Northwestern is right in the mix for.  Mills is a prototype strong-side defensive end, top 10 nationally at his position and top-150 nationally regardless of position.  He’s a thoroughbred, a dominating force in the Gaziano/Lowry mold with a potentially higher ceiling.  Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma,  Notre Dame: They all want him.  But from his hometown of Lake Forest, IL, Mills has had a front-row seat for Marty Long’s fantastic development of Defensive Linemen.  Northwestern offered Mills eons ago and has been right at the head of the line on his recruitment.  It will be a tough fight, but the ‘Cats are in the hunt.




AJ Henning


At last, we arrive at AJ Henning.


Henning is Venric Mark.  He’s Rondell Moore.  He’s electrifying.   There may not be a more exciting athlete to watch in the class of 2020.


Henning isn’t just a Sweet Spot recruit.  He’s a SWEET SPOT RECRUIT:  Not only does Henning hold both Notre Dame AND Stanford offers (along with, well, everyone else), he’s also the biggest recruit from Illinois powerhouse Lincoln-Way East since…this guy.


So yes, there are very good reasons why, when Henning trimmed his list to 9 potential schools, Northwestern was one of the 9.  The West Lot Pirates have watched Henning on tape.  We have watched Henning give interviews.  We love AJ Henning.  He would be a perfect Wildcat.  Let’s bring this young man home.



So, as you can see:  The 2020 class is EXACTLY the kind of class you want to be attacking having just won the Big Ten West.  There are dream scenarios here that see Northwestern obliterate the Wildcat standard for an on-paper recruiting class.  It would literally be a mathematical failure if Northwestern didn’t land at least ONE of the Sweet Spot recruits listed above, and there are several other Category 2 and 3 players who are definitely right there for Northwestern to grab.


Buckle up, Wildcat Fans.  It’s going to be an exciting ride.


Posted on February 21, 2019, in Podcast. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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